Você está na página 1de 241


Winner of the 2015 Geschwister-­Scholl-­Preis

Winner of Le Prix FETKANN! de la Mémoire 2013

“A captivating and si­mul­ta­neously vexing mixture of historical lecture and

political-­philosophical manifesto.”
—­Andreas Eckert, Frank­furter Allgemeine Zeitung

“Achille Mbembe is one of t­ hose paradoxical optimists who predict the

worst without ever losing their faith in the ­f uture. . . . ​Admittedly, slav-
ery has been abolished and colonialism is a t­ hing of the past. But t­ oday
new forms of alienation have arisen, the Other continues to be stigma-
tized, and the monster of capitalism reaches for its dream of a limitless
horizon. An inevitability? Not necessarily, shoots back this thinker, who
invites us to reimagine the geography of the world.”
 —­Maria Malagardis, Libération

“. . . a book that you want to shout about from the rooftops, so that all
your colleagues and friends ­will read it. My copy, only a few months old,
is stuffed with paper markers at many intervals, suggesting the richness of
analy­sis and description on nearly e­ very page. . . . ​This is certainly one of
the outstanding intellectual contributions to studies of empire, colonial-
ism, racism, and h­ uman liberation in the last de­cade, perhaps de­cades. . . . ​
A brilliant book.”
—­Elaine Coburn, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society
“A lucid, thoughtful and sometimes poetic work, with phrases you want to
underline on e­ very page. Mbembe is a voice that needs to be heard in the
current discussion about racism and immigration in Eu­rope.”
—­Peter Vermaas, NRC Handelsblad

“A very demanding yet incredibly power­ful book.”

—­Augsburger Allgemeine

“For me the most impor­tant African thinker ­today . . . ​Critique of Black

Reason [is] a very ­great book.” —­Jean-­Marie Durand, Les inrockuptibles

“Achille Mbembe has returned with a work that w ­ ill surely prove provoca-
tive: Critique of Black Reason. This nod to Kant’s philosophical classic is,
however, dev­ilishly well-­chosen since this work speaks to the never-­ending
tendency to place Eu­rope at the world’s ‘center of gravity.’ ”
—­Am Magazine

Translated by

Duke University Press
Durham and London
© 2017 Duke University Press
“critique de la raison nègre” by Achille Mbembe
© Editions La Découverte, Paris, France, 2013.
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of Amer­i­ca on acid-­free paper ∞
Cover designed by Matthew Tauch
Typeset in Arno Pro by Westchester Publishing Services

Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data

Names: Mbembe, Achille, [date] author. |
Dubois, Laurent, [date] translator.
Title: Critique of black reason / Achille Mbembe ;
translated by Laurent Dubois.
Other titles: Critique de la raison nègre. En­glish
Description: Durham : Duke University Press, 2017. |
“A John Hope Franklin Center Book.” | Originally published
as “Critique de la raison nègre”: Paris : La Decouverte, [2013] |
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: lccn 2016043545 (print)
lccn 2016046043 (ebook)
isbn 9780822363323 (hardcover : alk. paper)
isbn 9780822363439 (pbk. : alk. paper)
isbn 9780822373230 (ebook)
Subjects: lcsh: Blacks—­R ace identity. | Whites—­R ace
identity. | Race—­Philosophy. | Race—­Social aspects. |
Race awareness—­Moral and ethical aspects. | Slavery—­Moral
and ethical aspects. | Racism. | Difference (Philosophy)
Classification: lcc ht1581 .m3313 2017 (print) |
lcc ht1581 (ebook) | ddc 305.8001—­dc23
lc rec­ord available at https://­lccn​.­loc​.g­ ov/2016043545

Translator’s Introduction ​ix
Acknowl­edgments ​xvii

introduction  The Becoming Black of the World ​1

one  The Subject of Race ​10
two  The Well of Fantasies ​38
three  Difference and Self-­Determination ​78
four  The ­Little Secret ​103
five  Requiem for the Slave ​129
six  The Clinic of the Subject ​151
epilogue ­There Is Only One World ​179

Notes ​
Index ​
This page intentionally left blank

If a language is a kind of cartography, then to translate is to transform one

map into another. It is a pro­cess of finding the right symbols, t­ hose that
­will allow new readers to navigate through a landscape. What Mbembe
offers us h­ ere is a cartography in two senses: a map of a terrain sedi-
mented by centuries of history, and an invitation to find ourselves within
this terrain so that we might choose a path through it—­and perhaps even
beyond it.
What is “Black reason”? Mbembe’s sinuous, resonant answer to that
question is that it is what constitutes reason as we know it—­the reason of
state, the reason of capital, the reason of history. To understand the cate-
gory of Blackness, one must understand the history of the modern world, its
forms of conquest and exploitation, the manifold responses to its systems
of oppression, the forms of re­sis­tance and voicing, the totality and its frag-
ments. But the only way to make sense of that broader history is to begin
from the category itself, from its power to condense and crystallize ­these
broader pro­cesses. The critique offered ­here is one of remarkable histori-
cal and philosophical breadth. But it is also always attentive to the laby-
rinths and multiplicities of individual experience as ­shaped by social and
conceptual worlds. “ ‘Black’ is first of all a word,” Mbembe writes. “But the
word has its own weight, its own density.” “­There are words that wound,”
he notes, notably this “name that was given to me by someone ­else.” “To be
Black is to be stuck at the foot of a wall with no doors, thinking nonetheless
that every­thing ­will open up in the end” (pp. 151, 152).
With a voice that is conceptually percussive and often deeply poetic,
Mbembe offers an account that is also always a theorization, sometimes
puncturing what seems solid, at other times offering us vistas, openings,
through a poetic evocation of possibilities unfulfilled. His voice and per-
spective are unique for the way he brings together African-­American and
Ca­rib­bean history, Eu­ro­pean imperial history, and multiple histories of
Africa, notably South Africa. This is a painful story but also one that pulses
with energy—­the energy of the actors and thinkers that have guided
Mbembe through this cartography, whose ideas in turn take on new mean-
ing as they are assembled and analyzed ­here through his unique vision.
This book offers a power­ful and at times beautifully sardonic critique of
existing discourses about Blacks and Africa. “Still ­today,” Mbembe writes,
“as soon as the subject of Blacks and Africa is raised, words do not neces-
sarily represent ­things,” and “the true and the false become inextricable”
(p. 13). He explores the historical pro­cess through which Blackness and
Africa became a concatenation of symbols and narratives, with the Afri-
can continent coming to serve as “the mask as well as the hollow sun.”
“When Africa comes up,” he notes, “correspondence between words, im-
ages, and the t­ hing itself m
­ atters very ­little. It is not necessary for the name
to correspond to the ­thing, or for the ­thing to respond to its name.” ­There
has always been a remarkable freedom surrounding talk about Africa and
Blackness, a “total abdication of responsibility” that allows ­people, again and
again, to con­ve­niently end up “with a tale with which we are already familiar”
(pp. 49, 51–52).
How are we to navigate through this landscape constituted largely out
of deeply consequential fantasizing? Partly, as Mbembe does ­here, by both
analyzing and puncturing the genealogy, by mapping it out but also by
seeking to look at the map it has constituted for itself. Race, he writes, is
“image, form, surface, figure, and—­especially—­a structure of the imag-
ination.” And racism, a “site of a rupture, of effervescence and effusion,”
is a way of “substituting what is with something e­ lse, with another real­ity”
(p. 32). And it is, as Mbembe insists throughout the work, a force that in-
fuses and haunts global thought, practice, and possibility in ways we must
fully confront and understand if we are to move beyond.
His book seeks to lucidly account for the historical foundations for
this haunting, to provide categories through which to si­mul­ta­neously ap-
prehend and unravel it. “The Black Man is in effect the ghost of modernity,”
he writes (p. 129). That modern history is “the product of a pro­cess that
transforms ­people of African origin into living ore from which metal is ex-

x  Translator’s Introduction
tracted” (p. 40). The history of the Atlantic slave trade, of the fundamental
links between the creation of the plantation complex of the Amer­i­cas and
the constitution of modern Eu­rope, is retold ­here as the foundation for
the global order, and the order of thought itself. But Mbembe’s chronology
is never a stable one, for the pres­ent is shot through with the past, and the
structures of l­ abor, migration, surveillance, and capital in our con­temporary
world are presented h­ ere as deeply connected with and alarmingly close to
older slaving and colonial o­ rders. And they are sustained, too, by the continu-
ing deployment of the form of thought Mbembe seeks to analyze histori-
cally and confront philosophically and analytically.
The history of slavery and colonialism constituted the term “Black” as the
name “of the slave: man-­of-­metal, man-­merchandise, man-­of-­money” (p. 47).
The word “designated not h­ uman beings like all o­ thers but rather a distinct
humanity—­one whose very humanity was (and still is) in question.” Black-
ness came to “represent difference in its raw manifestation—­somatic, affec-
tive, aesthetic, imaginary.” Symbiotically, Whiteness “became the mark of
a certain mode of Western presence in the world, a certain figure of brutal-
ity and cruelty, a singular form of predation with an unequaled capacity for
the subjection and exploitation of foreign ­peoples” (pp. 45, 46). Mbembe
explores the structural d­ rivers and consequences for this pro­cess but also
its affective and psychological dimensions, the ways it constituted subjects
the world over. To be Black, he writes, was to become “the prototype of a
poisoned, burnt subject” and “a being whose life is made of ashes” (p. 40).
The creation of ­these categories was central to the “pro­cess of accu-
mulation that spanned the globe” in the era of plantation slavery and the
slave trade (p. 47). The M ­ iddle Passage; the creation of brutal, thriving
colonies in the Ca­rib­be­an; and the long history of colonialism in Africa
are recounted h­ ere but not so much through a traditional chronology as
through a narrative that connects vari­ous periods, showing how dif­fer­ent
pasts—­and the pres­ent—­are shot through with one another. For the lega-
cies of this ­giant pro­cess of destruction are everywhere: “Racial capitalism
is the equivalent of a g­ iant necropolis. It rests on the traffic of the dead
and ­human bones” (pp. 136–137). This history has created race and given it
the power to shape meaning, experience, the past, and the ­future. Race, “at
once image, body, and enigmatic mirror,” writes Mbembe, is “the expres-
sion of re­sis­tance to multiplicity” and “an act of imagination as much as an
act of misunderstanding” (pp. 110, 112).

Translator’s Introduction  xi

Our con­temporary confrontation with the legacies of this history must
nourish itself from, find illumination and inspiration in, the work of
many who have come before—­those who resisted enslavement, ­those who
crafted dreams of alternative worlds, the poets and activists whose pres-
ence is as old as the configuration of plantation slavery, the slave trade, and
colonialism itself. The enslaved, he writes, w ­ ere “fertilizers of history and
subjects beyond subjection.” Always sustaining the “possibilities for radi-
cal insurgency,” they represented a “kind of silt of the earth, a silt deposited
at the confluence of half-­worlds produced by the dual vio­lence of race and
capital” (pp. 36–37), ­because, always, ­there was creation in the midst of de-
struction, as ­those subjected to t­ hese barbarous systems “produced ways
of thinking and languages that ­were truly their own. They in­ven­ted their
own lit­er­a­tures, ­music, and ways of celebrating the divine” (p. 48). The
worlds of meaning and possibility they created through religious and po­
liti­cal practice as well as through lit­er­a­ture and art are taken up throughout
the work and infuse it with the sense of alternative histories and f­ utures.
Mbembe shows ­here how categories can be challenged and remade, some-
times from within. In the hands of ­those who resisted, Blackness could be
transformed “into a symbol of beauty and pride” and “a sign of radical
defiance, a call to revolt, desertion, or insurrection” (p. 47). The category
itself could even become “an island of repose in the midst of racial oppres-
sion and objective dehumanization” (p. 48).
From the eigh­teenth c­ entury to the pres­ent day, this pro­cess was partly
about the reconstitution of history, the “foundation of an archive,” a proj­ect
in which Mbembe’s work participates. The goal has been “to create commu-
nity, one forged out of debris from the four corners of the world,” while grap-
pling with a history that meant that this was “a community whose blood
stains the entire surface of modernity.” Mbembe crystallizes the work of
generations of writers and historians who have strug­gled to write the past in
a way that can open up a dif­fer­ent ­future. As he notes, their work has always
been challenging, for the “historical experiences of Blacks did not neces-
sarily leave traces,” and therefore the history can be “written only from frag-
ments brought together to give an account of an experience that itself was
fragmented.” But this act of historical reconstruction was and remains, at its
core, a necessary act of “moral imagination” (pp. 28–29).
In dialogue with the work of Fabien Eboussi Boulaga, Mbembe reflects
luminously on the way in which both Chris­tian­ity and Islam w ­ ere en-

xii  Translator’s Introduction

countered, absorbed, transformed, and reconfigured in Africa, as ­people
used them as an “im­mense field of signs” through which to interpret and
act within the world. The history of ­these religious reconfigurations, he
writes, highlights the “heretical genius” out of which “flows the capacity of
Africans to inhabit several worlds at once and situate themselves si­mul­ta­
neously on both sides of an image” (p. 102). All of t­ hese worlds of religious
practice, of art, are central in the proj­ect to “awaken slumbering powers”
in the pursuit of new worlds, allowing for an experience of a “plenitude
of time” and serving as “the meta­phor for a f­ uture to come” (pp. 174, 175).
Mbembe’s book is rooted in and engages with the writings of a wide range
of other thinkers. He writes of Marcus Garvey’s search for an Africa that
was “the name of a promise—­the promise of a reversal of history,” and of
the “volcanic thought” of Aimé Césaire (p. 156). He delves into the work of
African novelists Amos Tutuola and Sony Labou Tansi and shows how they
offer power­ful readings of slavery and po­liti­cal oppression. He writes inspir-
ingly of Nelson Mandela, “a man constantly on the lookout, a sentinel at the
point of departure,” who “lived intensely—as if every­thing w ­ ere to begin
again, and as if e­ very moment was his last” (pp. 170, 171). And he writes of
Édouard Glissant and his search for a new world to be born from the “under-
side of our history,” from the silt that has been “deposited along the banks of
rivers, in the midst of archipelagos, in the depths of oceans” (p. 181).
But the greatest guide throughout is Frantz Fanon, whose writings
Mbembe has engaged with throughout much of his work. Fanon’s “situ-
ated thinking, born of a lived experience that was always in pro­gress, unsta-
ble, and changing,” provides a model of “critical thought” that was “aimed
at smashing, puncturing, and transforming” colonialism and racism. His
was always a “metamorphic thought,” and as such an ever-­pres­ent and ever-­
relevant guide through the ruins of the pres­ent (pp. 161, 162).
All of ­these thinkers w­ ere the products of a “polyglot international-
ism” through which writings, practices, and ideas “circulated within a
vast global network, producing the modern Black imaginary.” Follow-
ing Paul Gilroy, he argues that their work offers “the foundation for an
alternative genealogy of ­human rights” (p. 30). Mbembe’s own book is
also meant to offer an alternative genealogy—of a category, “Black,” that
has been made by the world and made the world—in order to find what
Glissant calls the “reservoirs of life” (p. 181). “The path is clear: on the basis
of a critique of the past, we must create a ­future that is inseparable from

Translator’s Introduction  xiii

the notions of justice, dignity, and the in-­common.” This book is for ­those
“to whom the right to have rights is refused, ­those who are told not to
move,” and “­those who are turned away, deported, expelled”—­the “new
‘wretched of the earth’ ” (p. 177).

Mbembe’s book is at once a global history, a philosophical intervention,

and a call for the creation of new ­futures. B ­ ecause the book’s language
­here often serves as a conceptual and historical cartography, my task has
been to create a new map in a new language. The prob­lem has been that
the existing cartography of terms, particularly t­ hose dealing with race, is
quite dif­fer­ent in French and En­glish. The same symbols can mean dif­fer­
ent ­things in the two languages, resonating with vastly dif­fer­ent histories
of interpretation and sensibility.1
Perhaps the most difficult challenge in the translation was a question
raised from the title page forward: how should I translate the French word
Nègre? It is a particularly capacious and shifting term in French, layered
with uses and counteruses, shot through in a sense with centuries of strug­
gle over its very meaning. I knew the title had to be Critique of Black Rea-
son, which inspired my first attempt, in which I translated directly from “le
Nègre” to “the Black,” which had the benefit of seeming accuracy but the
disadvantage that it sounded weird to most readers. Using “the Negro,” fol-
lowing a tradition of twentieth-­century African-­American thought, worked
for some parts but not o­ thers: and calling the book Critique of Negro Reason
just ­didn’t quite work.
It was, ultimately, a par­tic­u­lar spiral of illuminated conversation that led to
a solution that, once found, seemed perfectly clear and obvious. It is a strat-
egy with pleasingly theological resonances. ­Here, the unity of “le Nègre”
becomes a trinity of words: sometimes “Blacks,” sometimes “Blackness,”
and at ­others “the Black Man.” This allowed me to map, in par­tic­u­lar, cor-
respondences that moved from the multiplicity of meanings in the French
term to words that pointed and flowed well in En­glish. Something is lost,
of course, and perhaps ­things are added too: the limiting masculinism of
the term “the Black Man” worried me, but in fact most of the passages
where I translated using this term are articulated in a gendered way, often
as a result of that tendency in the works of the thinkers (like Fanon) who
so deeply guide much of the text.

xiv  Translator’s Introduction

In fact, Critique of Black Reason itself is, from one perspective, one
winding, layered, and detailed definition of the term “Nègre,” an illustra-
tion of precisely how complex the term is, and how central it is to the very
constitution of modern thought, politics, ideology, and social life. Once
embarked in the text, readers w ­ ill understand that the term—or, in the
translation, the trinity of terms—is always insufficient, always just a bit
to the side, approaching but not arriving. And this is, in a sense, precisely
the point. Mbembe ­here offers nothing less than a map of the world as it
has been constituted through colonialism and racial thinking, an archive
of entrapment that also serves, perhaps, as a guide for escape—or at least
the beginnings of a reparation through recognition, the first hint of the
constitution of a beyond.

Translator’s Introduction  xv

This page intentionally left blank

This work of translation is what it is partly b­ ecause it is the result of a friend-

ship: I have taught and collaborated closely with Achille Mbembe for several
years, and also co-­led the Francophone Postcolonial Studies Playgroup with
him, during which visits to museums, ice cream parlors, and playgrounds
have served as the backdrop for ongoing conversations. Aniel, Anton, and
Lea, the other participants in this group, are perhaps ­those who deserve the
greatest ac­know­ledg­ment, among many who have helped create this transla-
tion. Perhaps I can attribute to them the sense of freedom that I brought to
this proj­ect, in which the goal was to somehow transmit the poetic nature
of Mbembe’s prose into the right pacing, imagery, and openness in En­glish.
­There are, of course, many ­others who made this proj­ect pos­si­ble. Ken
Wissoker of Duke University Press had the idea of having me translate the
work. Eliza Dandridge, a doctoral student at Duke University, expertly re-
read and critiqued a full draft of the translation. And the Franklin Humani-
ties Center funded a translation manuscript workshop, which allowed
us to gather a remarkable array of colleagues to discuss an early draft
of a few translated chapters, providing guidance and inspiration: Srinivas
Aravamudan, Sandie Blaise, J. Kameron Car­ter, Roberto Dainotto, Ainehi
Edoro, Michael Hardt, Azeen Khan, Ranjana Khana, Adriane Lentz-­Smith,
Anne-­Maria B. Makhulu, Emma Monroy, Mark Anthony Neal, Sarah Nutall,
Charlie Piot, Rachel Rothendler, and Anne-­Gaëlle Saliot. Fi­nally, two
anonymous reviewers for Duke University Press provided encouragement
and thoughtful critique that made the final version of this what it is.
This book includes some work that was previously published in English
translation. These include short passages from “Metamorphic Thought:
The Works of Frantz Fanon,” African Studies 71, no. 1 (April 2012) (trans-
lated by Steven Rendall) and “African Modes of Self-Writing,”  Public
Culture 14, no. 1 (Winter 2002) (translated by Libby Meintjes), and more
extensive material on Amos Tutoula, presented in chapter 5 of this book,
published in “Life, Sovereignty and Terror in the Fiction of Amos Tutu-
ola,” Research in African Literatures 34, no. 4 (Winter 2003) (translated by
R. H. Mitsch). I have made some alterations to these previously published
passages as I have integrated them into this work.

xviii  Acknowledgments

­These heads of men, ­these collections of ears, ­these burned h­ ouses, ­these Gothic inva-
sions, this steaming blood, ­these cities that evaporate at the edge of the sword, are not to
be so easily disposed of.
—­aimé césaire, Discourse on Colonialism

I envision this book as a river with many tributaries, since history and all
­things flow ­toward us now. Eu­rope is no longer the center of gravity of the
world. This is the significant event, the fundamental experience, of our era.
And we are only just now beginning the work of mea­sur­ing its implications
and weighing its consequences.1 W ­ hether such a revelation is an occasion
for joy or cause for surprise or worry, one t­ hing remains certain: the demo-
tion of Eu­rope opens up possibilities—­and pres­ents dangers—­for critical
thought. That is, in part, what this essay seeks to examine.
To capture the precise contours of t­ hese dangers and possibilities,
we need first to remember that, throughout its history, Eu­ro­pean thought
has tended to conceive of identity less in terms of mutual belonging
(cobelonging) to a common world than in terms of a relation between
similar beings—of being itself emerging and manifesting itself in its own
state, or its own mirror.2 But it is also crucial for us to understand that
as the direct consequence of the logic of self-­fictionalization and self-­
contemplation, indeed of closure, Blackness and race have played multiple
roles in the imaginaries of Eu­ro­pean socie­ties.3 Primary, loaded, burden-
some, and unhinged, symbols of raw intensity and repulsion, the two have
always occupied a central place—­si­mul­ta­neously, or at least in parallel—­
within modern knowledge and discourse about man (and therefore about
h­ umanism and humanity). Since the beginning of the eigh­teenth ­century,
Blackness and race have constituted the (unacknowledged and often de-
nied) foundation, what we might call the nuclear power plant, from which
the modern proj­ect of knowledge—­and of governance—­has been de-
ployed.4 Blackness and race, the one and the other, represent twin figures
of the delirium produced by modernity (chapters 1 and 2).
What are the reasons for the delirium, and what are its most basic mani-
festations? It results, first, from the fact that the Black Man is the one (or the
­thing) that one sees when one sees nothing, when one understands noth-
ing, and, above all, when one wishes to understand nothing. Everywhere
he appears, the Black Man unleashes impassioned dynamics and provokes
an irrational exuberance that always tests the limits of the very system of
reason. But delirium is also caused by the fact that no one—­not ­those who
in­ven­ted him, not ­those who named him thus—­would want to be a Black
Man or to be treated as one. As Gilles Deleuze observed, “­there is always
a Black person, a Jew, a Chinese, a G ­ rand Mogol, an Aryan in the midst
of delirium,” since what drives delirium is, among other t­ hings, race.5 By
reducing the body and the living being to ­matters of appearance, skin, and
color, by granting skin and color the status of fiction based on biology, the
Euro-­American world in par­tic­ul­ ar has made Blackness and race two sides
of a single coin, two sides of a codified madness.6 Race, operating over
the past centuries as a foundational category that is at once material and
phantasmic, has been at the root of catastrophe, the cause of extraordinary
psychic devastation and of innumerable crimes and massacres.7

Vertiginous Assemblage

­ ere are three critical moments in the biography of the vertiginous as-
semblage that is Blackness and race. The first arrived with the or­ga­nized
despoliation of the Atlantic slave trade (from the fifteenth through the
nineteenth ­century), through which men and ­women from Africa ­were
transformed into ­human-­objects, ­human-­commodities, ­human-­money.8
Imprisoned in the dungeon of appearance, they came to belong to o­ thers
who hated them. They ­were deprived of their own names and their own
languages. Their lives and their work w
­ ere from then on controlled by the
­others with whom they ­were condemned to live, and who denied them
recognition as cohumans. And yet they nevertheless remained active sub-

2  Introduction
jects.9 The second moment corresponded with the birth of writing near
the end of the eigh­teenth c­ entury, when Blacks, as beings-­taken-­by-­others,
began leaving traces in a language all of their own and at the same time
demanded the status of full subjects in the world of the living.10 The mo-
ment was punctuated by innumerable slave revolts and the in­de­pen­dence
of Haiti in 1804, by the b­ attle for the abolition of the slave trade, by African
decolonization, and by the strug­gle for civil rights in the United States.
The second era culminated in the dismantling of apartheid during the last
de­cades of the twentieth ­century. The third moment—­the early twenty-­
first ­century—is one marked by the globalization of markets, the priva-
tization of the world ­under the aegis of neoliberalism, and the increasing
imbrication of the financial markets, the postimperial military complex,
and electronic and digital technologies.
By “neoliberalism” I mean a phase in the history of humanity domi-
nated by the industries of the Silicon Valley and digital technology. In the
era of neoliberalism, time passes quickly and is converted into the produc-
tion of the money-­form. Capital, having reached its maximal capability for
flight, sets off a pro­cess of escalation. The vision that defines the neoliberal
moment is one according to which “all events and situations in the world
of life can be assigned a market value.”11 The pro­cess is also characterized
by the production of indifference; the frenzied codification of social life
according to norms, categories, and numbers; and vari­ous operations of
abstraction that claim to rationalize the world on the basis of corporate
logic.12 Capital, notably finance capital, is haunted by a baneful double and
defines itself as unlimited in terms of both ends and means. It does more
than just dictate its own temporal regime. Having taken as its responsibil-
ity the “fabrication of all relations of filiation,” it seeks to reproduce itself
“on its own” in an infinite series of structurally insolvent debts.13
­There are no more workers as such. ­There are only laboring nomads. If
yesterday’s drama of the subject was exploitation by capital, the tragedy
of the multitude ­today is that they are unable to be exploited at all. They
are abandoned subjects, relegated to the role of a “superfluous humanity.”
Capital hardly needs them anymore to function. A new form of psychic
life is emerging, one based on artificial and digital memory and on cog-
nitive models drawn from the neurosciences and neuroeconomics. With
­little distinction remaining between psychic reflexes and technological re-
flexes, the ­human subject becomes fictionalized as “an entrepreneur of the

Introduction  3
self.” This subject is plastic and perpetually called on to reconfigure itself
in relation to the artifacts of the age.14
This new man, subject to the market and to debt, views himself as the
­simple product of natu­ral luck. He is a kind of “ready-­made abstract form,”
characteristic of the civilization of the image and of the new relationships
that it establishes between fact and fiction, and capable of absorbing any
content.15 He is now just one animal among o­ thers, lacking an essence of
his own to protect or safeguard. Th ­ ere are no longer any limits placed on
the modification of his ge­ne­tic, biological structure.16 The new subject differs
in many ways from the tragic and alienated figure of early industrialization.
First and foremost, he is a prisoner of desire. His plea­sure depends almost
entirely on his capacity to reconstruct his private life publicly, to turn it
into ­v iable merchandise and put it up for sale. He is a neuroeconomic
subject absorbed by a double concern stemming from his animal nature
(as subject to the biological reproduction of life) and his thingness (as sub-
ject to o­ thers’ enjoyment of the t­ hings of this world). As a ­human-­thing,
­human-­machine, ­human-­code, and ­human-­in-­flux, he seeks above all to regulate
his be­hav­ior according to the norms of the market. He eagerly instru-
mentalizes himself and ­others to optimize his own plea­sure. Condemned
to lifelong apprenticeship, to flexibility, to the reign of the short term, he
must embrace his condition as a soluble, fungible subject to be able to re-
spond to what is constantly demanded of him: to become another.
Moreover, in the era of neoliberalism, capitalism and animism—­long
and painstakingly kept apart from each other—­have fi­nally tended to merge.
The cycle of capital moves from image to image, with the image now serv-
ing as an accelerant, creating energy and drive. The potential fusion of cap-
italism and animism carries with it a number of implications for our f­ uture
understanding of race and racism. First, the systematic risks experienced
specifically by Black slaves during early capitalism have now become the
norm for, or at least the lot of, all of subaltern humanity. The emergence
of new imperial practices is then tied to the tendency to universalize the
Black condition. Such practices borrow as much from the slaving logic of
capture and predation as from the colonial logic of occupation and extrac-
tion, as well as from the civil wars and raiding of earlier epochs.17 Wars of
occupation and counterinsurgency aim not only to track and eliminate the
­enemy but also to create a partition in time and an atomization of space. In
the ­future, part of the task of empire ­will consist in transforming the real

4  Introduction
into fiction, and fiction into the real. The mobilization of airpower and the
destruction of infrastructure, the strikes and wounds caused by military
action, are now combined with the mass mobilization of images, a key part
of the deployment of a vio­lence that seeks purity.18
Capture, predation, extraction, and asymmetrical warfare converge
with the rebalkanization of the world and intensifying practices of zoning,
all of which point to a new collusion between the economic and the bio-
logical. Such collusion translates in concrete terms into the militarization
of borders, the fragmentation and partitioning of territories, and the cre-
ation of more or less autonomous spaces within the borders of existing
states. In some cases such spaces are subtracted from all forms of national
sovereignty, operating instead ­under the informal laws of a multitude of
fragmented authorities and private armed forces. In other cases they re-
main ­under the control of foreign armies or of international organ­izations
operating ­under the pretext of, or on behalf of, humanitarianism.19 Zon-
ing practices are linked in general to transnational networks of repression
whose tools and methods include the imposition of ideological grids on pop-
ulations, the hiring of mercenaries to fight local guerrillas, the formation of
“hunt commandos,” and the systematic use of mass imprisonment, torture,
and extrajudicial execution.20 This “imperialism of disor­ga­ni­za­tion,” which
feeds on anarchy, leverages practices of zoning to manufacture disasters and
multiply states of exception nearly everywhere.
Foreign corporations, power­ful nations, and local dominant classes all
in turn pres­ent themselves as helping with reconstruction or use the pre-
text of fighting insecurity and disorder in order to help themselves to the
riches and raw materials of countries thrown into chaos through zoning
practices. The age has seen the massive transfer of wealth to private in-
terests, increasing dispossession of the riches wrested from capital during
previous strug­gles, and indefinite payments of massive debt. Even Eu­rope,
struck by the vio­lence of capital, has witnessed the emergence of a new
class of structurally indebted ­people.21
The potential fusion of capitalism and animism pres­ents a further impli-
cation: the very distinct possibility that ­human beings ­will be transformed
into animate t­hings made up of coded digital data. Across early capital-
ism, the term “Black” referred only to the condition imposed on ­peoples of
African origin (dif­fer­ent forms of depredation, dispossession of all power
of self-­determination, and, most of all, dispossession of the ­future and of

Introduction  5
time, the two matrices of the pos­si­ble). Now, for the first time in ­human
history, the term “Black” has been generalized. This new fungibility, this
solubility, institutionalized as a new norm of existence and expanded to
the entire planet, is what I call the Becoming Black of the world.

Race in the ­Future Tense

Although this fact has always been denied, Euro-­American discourse on

man depends on the two central figures of Blackness and race. Does the
demotion of Eu­rope to the rank of a mere world province signal the ex-
tinction of racism? Or must we instead understand that as humanity be-
comes fungible, racism ­will simply reconstitute itself in the interstices of
a new language on “species,” inserting itself as a kind of sand, molecular
and in fragments? In posing the question in ­these terms, we uphold the
idea that neither Blackness nor race has ever been fixed (chapter 1). They
have, on the contrary, always belonged to a chain of open-­ended signifiers.
The fundamental meanings of Blackness and race have always been ex-
istential. For ages, the term “Black” in par­tic­u­lar flowed with incredible
energy, at times connoting inferior instincts and chaotic powers, at o­ thers
serving as the luminous sign of the possibility that the world might be re-
deemed and transfigured (chapters 2 and 5). In addition to designating a
heterogeneous, multiple, and fragmented world—­ever new fragments of
fragments—­the term “Black” signaled a series of devastating historical ex-
periences, the real­ity of a vacant life, the fear felt by the millions trapped in
the ruts of racial domination, the anguish at seeing their bodies and minds
controlled from the outside, at being transformed into spectators watch-
ing something that was, but also was not, their true existence.22
This is not all. The term “Black” was the product of a social and tech-
nological machine tightly linked to the emergence and globalization of
capitalism. It was in­ven­ted to signify exclusion, brutalization, and degra-
dation, to point to a limit constantly conjured and abhorred. The Black
Man, despised and profoundly dishonored, is the only h­ uman in the
modern order whose skin has been transformed into the form and spirit
of merchandise—­the living crypt of capital. But t­here is also a manifest
dualism to Blackness. In a spectacular reversal, it becomes the symbol of a
conscious desire for life, a force springing forth, buoyant and plastic, fully
engaged in the act of creation and capable of living in the midst of several

6  Introduction
times and several histories at once. Its capacity for sorcery, and its ability
to incite hallucination, multiplies tenfold. Some saw in the Black Man the
salt of the earth, the vein of life through which the dream of a humanity rec-
onciled with nature, and even with the totality of existence, would find its
new face, voice, and movement.23
Eu­rope’s twilight has arrived, and the Euro-­American world has not
yet figured out what it wants to know about, or do with, the Black Man.
“Racism without races” is now surfacing in many countries.24 To practice
racism ­today even as it is rendered conceptually unthinkable, “culture” and
“religion” have replaced “biology.” Republican universalism is presented as
blind to race, even as non-­W hites are locked in their supposed origins. Ra-
cialized categories abound, most of them feeding into everyday practices of
Islamophobia. But who among us can doubt that the moment has fi­nally ar-
rived for us to begin-­from-­ourselves? While Eu­rope goes astray, overtaken
by the malaise of not knowing where it is within and with the world, is it not
time to lay the foundation for something absolutely new? To do so, ­will we
have to forget Blackness? Or perhaps, on the contrary, must we hold on to
its false power, its luminous, fluid, and crystalline character—­that strange
subject, slippery, serial, and plastic, always masked, firmly camped on both
sides of the mirror, constantly skirting the edge of the frame? And if, by
chance, in the midst of this torment, Blackness survives t­ hose who in­ven­
ted it, and if all of subaltern humanity becomes Black in a reversal to which
only history knows the secret, what risks would a Becoming-­Black-­of-­the-­
World pose to the promise of liberty and universal equality for which the
term “Black” has stood throughout the modern period (chapter 6)?
The fierce colonial desire to divide and classify, to create hierarchies
and produce difference, leaves b­ ehind wounds and scars. Worse, it created
a fault line that lives on. Is it pos­si­ble ­today to craft a relationship with
the Black Man that is something other than that between a master and his
valet? Does the Black Man not insist, still, on seeing himself through and
within difference? Is he not convinced that he is inhabited by a double, a
foreign entity that prevents him from knowing himself? Does he not live
in a world ­shaped by loss and separation, cultivating a dream of return-
ing to an identity founded on pure essentialism and therefore, often, on
alterity? At what point does the proj­ect of a radical uprising in search of
autonomy in the name of difference turn into a ­simple mimetic inversion
of what was previously showered with malediction?

Introduction  7
­These are some of the questions I ask in this book. It is neither a history of
ideas nor an exercise in so­cio­log­ic­ al history, but it uses history to propose
a style of critical reflection on our con­temporary world. By privileging a
sort of reminiscence, half solar and half lunar, half day and half night, I
have in mind a single question: how can we think through difference and
life, the similar and the dissimilar, the surplus and the in-­common? This
kind of questioning is familiar to the Black experience, which knows so
well how to occupy the place of a fleeing limit within con­temporary con-
sciousness, serving as a kind of mirror in perpetual motion. But we must
won­der why the mirror never stops turning. What prevents it from stop-
ping? What explains the infinite refraction of divisions, each more sterile
than the last?
—Johannesburg, 2 August 2013

This essay was written during my long stay at the Witwatersrand Institute
for Social and Economic Research at the University of Witwatersrand (in
Johannesburg, South Africa). It is part of a cycle of reflections first opened
up in On the Postcolony (2000), then pursued in Sortir de la grande nuit
(2010), and concluded by my teaching in a course on Afropolitanism.
During this cycle we sought to inhabit several worlds at the same time,
not in an easy gesture of fragmentation, but in one of coming and g­ oing,
able to authorize the articulation, from Africa, of a thinking of circulation
and crossings. Along this path it was not useful to seek to “provincialize”
Eu­ro­pean traditions of thought. They are, of course, not at all foreign to
us. When it comes to speaking the world in a language for every­one, how-
ever, ­there exist relations of power at the heart of t­ hese traditions, and part
of the work consisted in weighing in on t­hese internal frictions, inviting
them to a decentering, not in order to deepen the distance between Africa
and the world, but rather to make pos­si­ble the emergence, relatively lucidly,
of the new demands of a pos­si­ble universalism.
Throughout my time at the institute I benefited from the support of
my colleagues Deborah Posel, Sarah Nutall, John Hyslop, Ashlee Neeser,
Pamila Gupta, and, recently, Cathy Burns and Keith Breckenridge. The
pages that follow owe a ­great deal to the friendship of David Theo Gold-
berg, Arjun Appadurai, Ackbar Abbas, Françoise Vergès, Pascal Blanchard,
Laurent Dubois, Eric Fassin, Ian Baucom, Srinivas Aravamudan, Charlie

8  Introduction
Piot, and Jean-­Pierre Chrétien. Paul Gilroy, Jean Comaroff, John Comaroff,
and the much-­missed Carol Breckenridge w ­ ere enormous sources of
inspiration. I also thank my colleagues Kelly Gillespie, Julia Hornberger,
Leigh-­Ann Naidoo, and Zen Marie of the Johannesburg Workshop in
Theory and Criticism of the University of Witwatersrand.
My editor, François Gèze, and his team (Pascale Iltis and Thomas
Deltombe in par­tic­u­lar) ­were, as always, a steady source of support.
I thank the journals Le Débat, Politique Africaine, Cahiers d’Études Af-
ricaines, Research in African Lit­er­at­ ures, Africulture, and Le Monde Diplo-
matique, which welcomed the exploratory texts that form the basis for this
For reasons t­ here is no reason to repeat h­ ere, this book is dedicated to
Sarah, Léa, and Aniel, as well as Jolyon and Jean.

Introduction  9

The pages that follow deal with “Black reason.” By this ambiguous and
polemical term I mean to identify several ­things at once: forms of
knowledge; a model of extraction and depredation; a paradigm of sub-
jection, including the modalities governing its eradication; and, fi­nally,
a psycho-­oneiric complex. Like a kind of g­ iant cage, Black reason is in
truth a complicated network of doubling, uncertainty, and equivocation,
built with race as its chassis.
We can speak of race (or racism) only in a fatally imperfect language,
gray and inadequate. Let it suffice to say, for now, that race is a form of
primal repre­sen­ta­tion. Unable to distinguish between the outside and the
inside, between envelopes and their contents, it sends us, above all, back
to surface simulacra. Taken to its limit, race becomes a perverse complex,
a generator of fears and torments, of disturbed thoughts and terror, but
especially of infinite sufferings and, ultimately, catastrophe. In its phantas-
magoric dimensions, it is a sign of neurosis—­phobic, obsessive, at times
hysterical. Other­wise, it is what reassures itself by hating, deploying dread,
and practicing altruicide: the constitution of the Other not as similar to
oneself but as a menacing object from which one must be protected or
escape, or which must simply be destroyed if it cannot be subdued.1 As
Frantz Fanon has noted, “race” is also the name for b­ itter resentment and
the irrepressible desire for vengeance. “Race” is the name for the rage of
­those who, constrained by subjection, suffer injuries, all manner of vio-
lations and humiliations, and bear countless wounds.2 We ­will therefore
ask, in this book, about the nature of this resentment. We ­will provide an
account of what race does, of its depth, at once real and fictive, and of the
relationships through which it expresses itself. And we w ­ ill examine the
gesture of race that, notably in the case of ­people of African origin, consists
in dissolving ­human beings into t­ hings, objects, and merchandise.3

Fantasy and the Closing of the Spirit

It may seem surprising to resort to the concept of race, at least in the way
that it is sketched out ­here. In fact, race does not exist as a physical, an-
thropological, or ge­ne­tic fact.4 But it is not just a useful fiction, a phantas-
magoric construction, or an ideological projection whose function is to
draw attention away from conflicts judged to be more real—­the strug­gle
between classes or genders, for example. In many cases race is an autono-
mous figure of the real whose force and density can be explained by its
characteristic mobility, inconstancy, and capriciousness. It ­wasn’t all that
long ago, a­ fter all, that the world was founded on an inaugural dualism that
sought justification in the old myth of racial superiority.5 In its avid need
for myths through which to justify its power, the Western world consid-
ered itself the center of the earth and the birthplace of reason, universal
life, and the truth of humanity. The most “civilized” region of the world,
the West alone had in­ven­ted the “rights of the p­ eople.” It alone had suc-
ceeded in constituting a civil society of nations understood as a public
space of l­egal reciprocity. It alone was at the origin of the idea that to be
­human was to possess civil and po­liti­cal rights that allowed individuals to
develop private and public powers as citizens of the h­ uman race who, as
such, ­were s­ haped by all that was ­human. And it alone had codified a range
of customs accepted by dif­fer­ent ­peoples that included diplomatic rituals,
the rules of engagement, the right of conquest, public morality and polite
be­hav­ior, and practices of business, religion, and government.
The Remainder—­the ultimate sign of the dissimilar, of difference and
the pure power of the negative—­constituted the manifestation of existence
as an object. Africa in general and Blackness in par­tic­u­lar ­were presented as
accomplished symbols of a vegetative, limited state. The Black Man, a sign
in excess of all signs and therefore fundamentally unrepresentable, was the
ideal example of this other-­being, powerfully possessed by emptiness, for
whom the negative had ended up penetrating all moments of existence—­
the death of the day, destruction and peril, the unnameable night of the
world.6 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel described such figures as statues

The Subject of Race  11

without language or awareness of themselves, h­ uman entities incapable
of ridding themselves definitively of the animal presence with which they
­were mixed. In fact, their nature was to contain what was already dead.
Such figures, he wrote, ­were the province of “a host of separate, antagonis-
tic national Spirits who hate and fight each other to the death,” dismember-
ing and destroying themselves like animals—­a kind of humanity staggering
through life, confusing becoming-­human and becoming-­animal, and all along
“unconscious of their universality.”7 ­Others, more charitable, admitted that
such entities ­were not completely devoid of humanity. They ­were, rather,
in a state of slumber and had not yet become engaged in the adventure
of what Paul Valéry called the “leap of no return.” It was pos­si­ble, they
claimed, to raise them up to our level, and shouldering that burden did not
grant the right to take advantage of their inferiority. On the contrary, it was
Eu­rope’s duty to help and protect them.8 This made the colonial enterprise
a fundamentally “civilizing” and “humanitarian” enterprise. The vio­lence
that was its corollary could only ever be moral.9
Eu­ro­pean discourse, both scholarly and popu­lar, had a way of thinking,
of classifying and imagining distant worlds, that was often based on modes of
fantasizing. By presenting facts, often in­ven­ted, as real, certain, and exact, it
evaded what it claimed to capture and maintained a relationship to other
worlds that was fundamentally imaginary, even as it sought to develop forms
of knowledge aimed at representing them objectively. The essential qualities
of the imaginary relationship remain to be elucidated, but the procedures
that enabled the work of fantasy to take shape, as well as the vio­lence that
resulted from it, are now sufficiently well known. At this point, t­ here are
very few ­things we can add. But if ­there is one space in which the imagi-
nary relationship and the fictional economy undergirding it existed in their
most brutal, distinct, and obvious form, it is in the sign that we call Blackness
and, as if by ricochet, in the seeming outer zone that we call Africa, both
of which are fated to be not common nouns, or even proper nouns, but
rather mere indicators of an absence of achievement.
Clearly, not all Blacks are Africans, and not all Africans are Blacks. But
it ­matters ­little where they are located. As objects of discourse and objects
of knowledge, Africa and Blackness have, since the beginning of the mod-
ern age, plunged the theory of the name as well as the status and function
of the sign and of repre­sen­ta­tion into deep crisis. The same was true of the
relation between being and appearance, truth and falsehood, reason and


unreason, even language and life. ­Every time it confronted the question of
Blacks and Africa, reason found itself ruined and emptied, turning con-
stantly in on itself, shipwrecked in a seemingly inaccessible place where
language was destroyed and words themselves no longer had memory. Lan-
guage, its ordinary functions extinguished, became a fabulous machine
whose power resided in its vulgarity, in its remarkable capacity for viola-
tion, and in its indefinite proliferation. Still ­today, as soon as the subject of
Blacks and Africa is raised, words do not necessarily represent t­ hings; the
true and the false become inextricable; the signification of the sign is not
always adequate to what is being signified. It is not only that the sign is
substituted for the ­thing. Word and image often have ­little to say about the
objective world. The world of words and signs has become autonomous to
such a degree that it exists not only as a screen possessed by its subject, its
life, and the conditions of its production but as a force of its own, capable
of emancipating itself from all anchoring in real­ity. That this is the case must
be attributed, to a large extent, to the law of race.
It would be a ­mistake to believe that we have left ­behind the regime
that began with the slave trade and flourished in plantation and extraction
colonies. In ­these baptismal fonts of modernity, the princi­ple of race and
the subject of the same name ­were put to work ­under the sign of capital.
This is what distinguishes the slave trade and its institutions from indig-
enous forms of servitude.10 Between the f­ourteenth and the nineteenth
centuries, the spatial horizon of Eu­rope expanded considerably. The Atlantic
gradually became the epicenter of a new concatenation of worlds, the locus
of a new planetary consciousness. The shift into the Atlantic followed Eu­
ro­pean attempts at expansion in the Canaries, Madeira, the Azores, and
the islands of Cape Verde and culminated in the establishment of a planta-
tion economy dependent on African slave ­labor.11
The transformation of Spain and Portugal from peripheral colonies of
the Arab world into the driving forces of Eu­ro­pean expansion across the At-
lantic coincided with the flow of Africans into the Iberian Peninsula itself.
They contributed to the reconstruction of the Iberian principalities in the
wake of the Black Death and the ­Great Famine of the ­fourteenth ­century.
Most ­were slaves, but certainly not all. Among them ­were freemen. Slaves
had previously been supplied to the peninsula via trans-­Saharan routes
controlled by the Moors. Around 1440 the Iberians opened up direct con-
tact with West and Central Africa via the Atlantic Ocean. The first public

The Subject of Race  13

sale of Black victims captured in a raid took place in Portugal in 1444. The
number of “captives” increased substantially between 1450 and 1500, and
the African presence grew as a consequence. Thousands of slaves disem-
barked in Portugal each year, destabilizing the demographic equilibrium
of certain Iberian cities. Such was the case in Lisbon, Seville, and Cádiz,
where nearly 10 ­percent of the population was African at the beginning of
the sixteenth ­century.12 Most ­were assigned to agricultural and domestic
work.13 Once the conquest of the Amer­ic­ as began, Afro-­Iberians and Af-
rican slaves could be found among ship’s crews, at commercial outposts,
on plantations, and in the urban centers of the empire.14 They participated
in dif­fer­ent military campaigns (in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Florida) and in
1519 ­were among Hernán Cortés’s regiments when they invaded Mexico.15
­After 1492 the triangular trade transformed the Atlantic into an entangled
economy connecting Africa, the Amer­i­cas, the Ca­rib­bean, and Eu­rope.
Relatively autonomous regions became interconnected, part of a vast
Oceanic-­Continental formation. The new multi-­hemispheric ensemble
engendered a series of transformations without parallel in the history of
the world. P ­ eople of African origin ­were at the heart of new and frenzied
dynamics of coming and ­going, from one side to the other of the same
ocean, from the slave ports of West and Central Africa to ­those in the Amer­
i­cas and Eu­rope. The economy on which the new structure of circulation
was based required colossal capital. It also involved the transfer of metals,
agricultural products, and manufactures, alongside the dissemination of
knowledge, the circulation of cultural practices that w ­ ere previously un-
known, and the development of insurance, accounting, and finance. The
increasing traffic of religions, languages, technologies, and cultures set in
motion new pro­cesses of creolization. Black consciousness during early
capitalism emerged in part within this dynamic of movement and circu-
lation. It was the product of a tradition of travel and displacement, one
rooted in a logic that denationalized the imagination. Such pro­cesses of
denationalization continued through the m ­ iddle of the twentieth c­ entury
and marked most of the ­great movements of Black emancipation.16
Between 1630 and 1780, far more Africans than Eu­ro­pe­ans disembarked
in ­Great Britain’s Atlantic colonies.17 In this sense the height of Black pres-
ence within the British Empire was at the end of the eigh­teenth c­ entury.
Ships leaving the slave forts and ports of West Africa and the Bay of Biafra
with ­human cargoes deposited their wares in Jamaica and the United


States. But alongside the macabre commerce in slaves, whose only objec-
tive was profit, was the movement of ­free Africans, the new colonists—­the
“black poor” in ­Eng­land, or refugees from the War of In­de­pen­dence in
the United States who left Newfoundland, ­Virginia, or Carolina to ­settle
in the new colonies of Africa itself, such as Sierra Leone.18
The transnationalization of the Black condition was therefore a con-
stitutive moment for modernity, with the Atlantic serving as its incuba-
tor. The Black condition incorporated a range of contrasting states and
statuses: ­those sold through the transatlantic slave trade, convict laborers,
subsistence slaves (whose lives ­were spent as domestics), feudal slaves,
­house slaves, ­those who ­were emancipated, and t­hose who w ­ ere born
slaves. Between 1776 and 1825, Eu­rope lost most of its American colonies
as a result of revolutions, in­de­pen­dence movements, and rebellions. Afro-­
Latins played an eminent role in the constitution of the Iberian-­Hispanic
empires. They served not only as servile laborers but also as ship’s crew-
men, explorers, officers, settlers, property o­ wners, and, in some cases, free-
men who owned slaves.19 In the anticolonial uprisings of the nineteenth
­century that resulted in the dissolution of empire, they played diverse
roles as soldiers and leaders of po­liti­cal movements. The collapse of
the imperial structures of the Atlantic world and the rise of new nation-­
states transformed the relationships between metropoles and colonies. A
class of Creole Whites asserted and consolidated their influence.20 Old
questions of heterogeneity, difference, and liberty ­were once again posed,
with new elites using the ideology of mestizaje to deny and disqualify the
racial question. The contribution of Afro-­Latins and Black slaves to the
historical development of South Amer­i­ca has been, if not erased, at least
severely obscured.21
The case of Haiti was crucial from this standpoint. The country’s dec-
laration of in­de­pen­dence came in 1804, only twenty years ­after that of
the United States, and it marked a turning point in the modern history
of ­human emancipation. Over the course of the eigh­teenth c­ entury—­the
age of Enlightenment—­the colony of Saint-­Domingue was the classic ex-
ample of a plantocracy, a hierarchical social, po­liti­cal, and economic order
led by a relatively small number of rival White groups ruling in the midst
of freemen of color and ­those of mixed heritage and over a large majority
of slaves, more than half of them born in Africa.22 In contrast to other
in­de­pen­dence movements, the Haitian Revolution was the result of an

The Subject of Race  15

insurrection of the enslaved. It resulted, in 1805, in one of the most radical
constitutions of the New World. It outlawed nobility, instituted freedom
of religion, and attacked the two concepts of property and slavery, some-
thing that the American Revolution had not dared to do. Not only did the
new Haitian Constitution abolish slavery. It also authorized the confisca-
tion of lands belonging to French settlers, decapitating most of the domi-
nant class along the way. It abolished the distinction between legitimate
and illegitimate birth and pushed then-­revolutionary ideas of racial equal-
ity and universal liberty to their ultimate conclusion.23
In the United States, the first Black slaves disembarked in 1619. On the
eve of the revolution against the En­glish, ­there ­were more than 500,000
slaves in the rebel colonies. In 1776 about five thousand enlisted as soldiers
on the side of the Patriots, even though most of them ­were not considered
citizens. The strug­gle against British domination and the fight against the
slave system went hand in hand for most. Yet nearly ten thousand slaves
in Georgia and South Carolina deserted plantations to join the En­glish
troops. ­Others fought for their own liberation by escaping into swamps
and forest. At the end of the war, roughly fourteen thousand Blacks, some
of them now f­ree, w ­ ere evacuated from Savannah, Charleston, and New
York and transported to Florida, Nova Scotia, Jamaica, and, l­ ater, Africa.24
The anticolonial revolution against the En­glish gave rise to a paradox:
on the one hand, the expansion of the spheres of liberty for Whites and, on
the other, an unpre­ce­dented consolidation of the slave system. To a large
extent, the planters of the South had bought their freedom with the ­labor
of slaves. B
­ ecause of the existence of servile l­ abor, the United States largely
avoided class divisions within the White population, divisions that would
have led to internal power strug­gles with incalculable consequences.25
Over the course of the Atlantic period briefly described ­here, the small
province of the planet that is Eu­rope gradually gained control over the rest
of the world. In parallel, particularly during the eigh­teenth ­century, ­there
emerged discourses of truth relating to nature, the specificity and forms
of the living, and the qualities, traits, and characteristics of ­human beings.
Entire populations ­were categorized as species, kinds, or races, classified
along vertical lines.26
Paradoxically, it was also during this period that p­ eople and cultures
­were increasingly conceptualized as individualities closed in upon them-
selves. Each community—­and even each p­ eople—­was considered a unique


collective body endowed with its own power. The collective also became
the foundation for a history s­ haped, it was thought, by forces that emerged
only to destroy other forces, and by strug­gle that could result only in liberty
or servitude.27 The expansion of the Eu­ro­pean spatial horizon, then, went
hand in hand with a division and shrinking of the historical and cultural
imagination and, in certain cases, a relative closing of the mind. In sum,
once genders, species, and races ­were identified and classified, nothing re-
mained but to enumerate the differences between them. The closing off
of the mind did not signify the extinction of curiosity itself. But from the
High M ­ iddle Ages to the Enlightenment, curiosity as a mode of inquiry and
a cultural sensibility was inseparable from the work of fantasy, which,
when focused on other worlds, constantly blurred the lines between the
believable and the unbelievable, the factual and the marvelous.28
By the time Georges-­Louis Buffon attempted the first g­ reat racial clas-
sification, the language on other worlds was suffused with naive and sen-
sualist prejudices. Extremely complex forms of life had been reduced to
mere epithets.29 We can call this the gregarious phase of Western thinking.
The period represented the Black Man as the prototype of a prehuman
figure incapable of emancipating itself from its bestiality, of reproducing
itself, or of raising itself up to the level of its god. Locked within sensation,
the Black Man strug­gled to break the chains of biological necessity and
for that reason was unable to take a truly h­ uman form and shape his own
world. He therefore stood apart from the normal existence of the ­human
race. During this gregarious moment of Western thinking, and propelled
by ­imperialist impulse, the act of capturing and grasping ideas became
gradually detached from the effort to know deeply and intimately. Hegel’s
Reason in History represents the culmination of the gregarious period.30 For
several centuries the concept of race—­which we know referred initially to
the animal sphere—­served to name non-­European h­ uman groups.31 What
was then called the “state of race” corresponded, it was thought, to a state
of degradation and defect of an ontological nature. The notion of race
made it pos­si­ble to represent non-­European ­human groups as trapped in
a lesser form of being. They w ­ ere the impoverished reflection of the ideal
man, separated from him by an insurmountable temporal divide, a differ-
ence nearly impossible to overcome. To talk of them was, most of all, to
point to absence—­the absence of the same—or, rather, to a second pres-
ence, that of monsters and fossils. If the fossil, as Michel F ­ oucault writes,

The Subject of Race  17

is “what permits resemblances to subsist throughout all the deviations tra-
versed by nature,” and functions primarily “as a distant and approximative
form of identity,” the monster, in contrast “provides an account, as though
in caricature, of the genesis of differences.”32 On the ­great chart of species,
genders, races, and classes, Blackness, in its magnificent obscurity, rep-
resented the synthesis of ­these two figures. But Blackness does not exist
as such. It is constantly produced. To produce Blackness is to produce a
social link of subjection and a body of extraction, that is, a body entirely
exposed to the w ­ ill of the master, a body from which ­great effort is made
to extract maximum profit. An exploitable object, the Black Man is also
the name of a wound, the symbol of a person at the mercy of the whip and
suffering in a field of strug­gle that opposes socioracially segmented groups
and factions. Such was the case for most of the insular plantocracies of the
Ca­rib­bean, ­those segmented universes in which the law of race depended
as much on conflict between White planters and Black slaves as between
Blacks and “­free p­ eople of color” (often manumitted mulattoes), some of
whom owned slaves themselves.
The Blacks on the plantation w ­ ere, furthermore, diverse. They w
­ ere hunt-
ers of maroons and fugitives, executioners and executioners’ assistants,
skilled slaves, in­for­mants, domestics, cooks, emancipated slaves who w ­ ere
still subjugated, concubines, field-­workers assigned to cutting cane, work-
ers in factories, machine operators, masters’ companions, and occasion-
ally soldiers. Their positions w ­ ere far from stable. Circumstances could
change, and one position could become another. ­Today’s victim could
tomorrow become an executioner in the ser­vice of the master. It was not
uncommon for a slave, once freed, to become a slave owner and hunter of
fugitive slaves.
Moreover, Blacks of the plantation ­were socialized into the hatred of
­others, particularly of other Blacks. The plantation was characterized by
its segmented forms of subjection, distrust, intrigue, rivalry, and jealousy,
ambivalent tactics born out of complicity, arrangements of all kinds, and
practices of differentiation carried out against a backdrop of the reversibil-
ity of positions. But it was also defined by the fact that the social links de-
fined by exploitation ­were never stable. They ­were constantly challenged
and had to be produced and reproduced through vio­lence of a molecular
kind that sutured and saturated the master–­slave relationship.


From time to time that relationship exploded in uprisings, insurrec-
tions, and slave plots. A paranoid institution, the plantation lived ­under
a perpetual regime of fear. It combined aspects of a camp, a pen, and a
paramilitary society. The slave master could deploy one form of coercion
­after another, create chains of dependence between him and his slaves,
and alternate between terror and generosity, but his existence was always
haunted by the specter of extermination. The Black slave, on the other hand,
was constantly on the threshold of revolt, tempted to respond to the in-
sistent call of liberty or vengeance, or ­else pulled into a form of maximum
degradation and radical self-­abdication that consisted in protecting his life
by participating in the proj­ect of subjection.
Furthermore, between 1620 and 1640, the forms of servitude remained
relatively fluid, particularly in the United States. F
­ ree l­abor coexisted with
indentured ­labor (a form of impermanent servitude, or servitude of a
predetermined length) and slavery (both hereditary and nonhereditary).
­There ­were profound class divisions within the settler population as well
as between settlers and the mass of the enslaved. Slaves w ­ ere furthermore
a multiracial group. Between 1630 and 1680, a bifurcation took place that
gave birth to plantation society as such. The princi­ple of lifelong servitude
for ­people of African origin stigmatized ­because of their color gradually
became the rule. Africans and their c­ hildren became slaves for life. The dis-
tinctions between White servants and Black slaves became much sharper.
The plantation gradually took shape as an economic, disciplinary, and penal
institution in which Blacks and their descendants could be bought for life.
Throughout the seventeenth ­century a massive legislative effort sealed
their fate. The construction of subjects of race on the American continent
began with their civic destitution and therefore their exclusion from the
privileges and rights guaranteed to the other inhabitants of the colonies.
From then on they w ­ ere no longer h­ umans like all o­ thers. The pro­cess
continued with the extension of lifetime slavery to their c­ hildren and
their descendants. This first phase marked the completion of a long pro­
cess aimed at establishing their ­legal incapacity. The loss of the right to
appear in court turned the Black individual into a nonperson from a ju-
ridical standpoint. To this judicial mechanism was added a series of slave
codes, often developed in the aftermaths of slave uprisings. Around 1720,
with ­legal codification complete, what we might call the Black structure of

The Subject of Race  19

the world, which already existed in the West Indies, officially appeared
in the United States, with the plantation as its core structure. As for Blacks,
they ­were nothing more than pieces of property, at least from a strict ­legal
perspective. The pressing question from 1670 on was how to deploy large
numbers of laborers within a commercial enterprise that spanned ­great
distances. The answer was the invention of Blackness. It was the cog that
made pos­si­ble the creation of the plantation—­one of the period’s most ef-
fective forms of wealth accumulation—­and accelerated the integration of
merchant capitalism with technology and the control of subordinated l­ abor.
The plantation developed over this period represented an innovation in
scale, through the denial of liberty, the control of worker mobility, and the
unlimited deployment of vio­lence. The invention of Blackness also opened
the way for crucial innovations in the areas of transportation, production,
commerce, and insurance.
Not all of the Blacks in the Ca­rib­bean or the United States w ­ ere slaves,
however. The racialization of servitude in the United States pushed Whites,
and especially the “poor Whites” who did all kinds of ­labor, to distinguish
themselves as much as pos­si­ble from the Africans reduced to the state of
slavery. Freemen had one g­ reat fear: that the wall separating them from
the slaves was not sturdy enough. At one point or another, socie­ties across
the hemi­sphere included freemen of color, some of whom w ­ ere ­owners
of slaves and land, in addition to indentured Whites. The population of
­free ­people of color gradually grew as a result of waves of manumission
and mixed ­unions between Black slaves and ­free Whites or between White
­women and Blacks. In the Ca­rib­bean in par­tic­u­lar, the phenomenon of
Whites with Black concubines became relatively widespread. Even with
racial segregation officially in place, interracial libertinage and concubinage
with ­women of color, w ­ hether f­ ree or enslaved, ­were commonplace among
White elites.


The twenty-­first ­century is, of course, not the nineteenth ­century. That pe-
riod was marked by the linked pro­cesses of colonial expansion in Africa and
the deliberate biologization of race in the West. It was also, with the help of
Darwinian and post-­Darwinian evolutionary thought, the period that saw
the spread of eugenicist strategies in many countries and rising obsessions


with degeneration and suicide.34 Yet, encouraged by pro­cesses of global-
ization and the contradictory effects they provoke, the problematic of race
has once again burst into con­temporary consciousness.35 The fabrication
of racial subjects has been reinvigorated nearly everywhere.36 Alongside
anti-­Semitic racism, the colonial model of comparing h­ umans to animals,
and color prejudice inherited from the slave trade and translated through
institutions of segregation (as with Jim Crow laws in the United States
and the apartheid regime in South Africa), new patterns of racism have
emerged that reconstruct the figure of the intimate e­ nemy within mutated
structures of hate.37 ­After a brief intermission, the end of the twentieth
­century and the beginning of the twenty-­first have witnessed the return
to biological understandings of the distinctions between ­human groups.38
Genomics, rather than marking the end of racism, has instead authorized
a new deployment of race.39 ­W hether through the exploration of the ge-
nomic bases of illnesses within certain groups or genealogical efforts to
trace roots or geographic origins, recourse to ge­ne­tics tends to confirm
the racial typologies of the nineteenth c­ entury (White Caucasians, Black
Africans, Yellow Asiatics).40 The same racial syntax is pres­ent in discourses
on reproductive technologies involving the manipulation of ovaries and
sperm and in t­ hose concerning reproductive choice through the se­lection
of embryos, or in languages related to the planning of life in general.41
The same is true of the dif­fer­ent ways in which living t­hings can be
manipulated, including the hybridization of organic, animal, and artificial
ele­ments. In fact, ­there is good reason to believe that in a more or less dis-
tant ­future ge­ne­tic techniques ­will be used to manage the characteristics of
populations to eliminate races judged “undesirable” through the se­lection
of trisomic embryos, or through theriomorphism (hybridization with
animal ele­ments) or “cyborgization” (hybridization with artificial ele­
ments). Nor is it impossible to believe that we w ­ ill arrive at a point where
the fundamental role of medicine ­will be not only to bring a sick organ-
ism back to health but to use medical techniques of molecular engineering
to refashion life itself along lines defined by racial determinism. Race and
racism, then, do not only have a past. They also have a ­future, particularly
in a context where the possibility of transforming life and creating mutant
species no longer belongs to the realm of fiction.
Taken on their own, the transformations of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro-
duction during the second half of the twentieth ­century cannot explain

The Subject of Race  21

the reappearance and vari­ous metamorphoses of the Beast. But they—­
along with major discoveries in technology, biology, and genetics—do
undeniably constitute its background.42 A new po­liti­cal economy of life
is emerging, one irrigated by international flows of knowledge about cells,
tissues, organs, pathologies, and therapies as well as about intellectual prop-
erty.43 The reactivation of the logic of race also goes hand in hand with the
increasing power of the ideology of security and the installation of mecha-
nisms aimed at calculating and minimizing risk and turning protection
into the currency of citizenship.
This is notably the case in regard to the management of migration and
mobility in a context in which terrorist threats are believed to increasingly
emanate from individuals or­ga­nized in cells and networks that span the
surface of the planet. In such conditions the protection and policing of
territory becomes a structural condition for securing the population. To
be effective, such protection requires that every­one remain at home, that
­those living and moving within a given national territory be capable of
proving their identities at any given moment, that the most exhaustive in-
formation pos­si­ble be gathered on each individual, and that the control of
foreigners’ mobility be carried out not only along borders but also from
a distance, preferably within their countries of departure.44 The massive
expansion of digitization ­under way nearly everywhere in the world partly
adheres to this logic, with the idea that optimal forms of securitization
necessarily require the creation of global systems of control over individu-
als conceived of as biological bodies that are both multiple and in motion.
Protection itself is no longer based solely on the l­ egal order. It has b­ ecome
a question of biopolitics. The new systems of security build on vari­ous
ele­ments of prior regimes (the forms of punishment used within slavery,
aspects of the colonial wars of conquest and occupation, ­legal-­juridical tech-
niques used in the creation of states of exception) and incorporate them,
on a nanocellular level, into the techniques of the age of genomics and
the war on terror. But they also draw on techniques elaborated during the
counterinsurgency wars of the period of decolonization and the “dirty
wars” of the Cold War (in Algeria, Vietnam, Southern A ­ frica, Burma, and
Nicaragua), as well as the experiences of predatory ­dictatorships put into
power throughout the world with the direct encouragement, or at least
complicity, of the intelligence agencies of the West.


The increasing power of the security state in the con­temporary context
is, furthermore, accompanied by a remodeling of the world through tech-
nology and an exacerbation of forms of racial categorization.45 Facing the
transformation of the economy of vio­lence throughout the world, liberal
demo­cratic regimes now consider themselves to be in a nearly constant
state of war against new enemies who are in flight, both mobile and re-
ticular. The theater of this new form of war is both external and internal.
It requires a “total” conception of defense, along with greater tolerance for
­legal exceptions and special dispensations. The conduct of this type of war
depends on the creation of tight, panoptic systems that enable increasing
control of individuals, preferably from a distance, via the traces they leave
­behind.46 In place of the classic paradigm of war, in which opposing sides
meet on a well-­defined battlefield and the risk of death is reciprocal, the
logic is now vertical. ­There are two protagonists: prey and predator.47 The
predator, with nearly complete control of the airspace, selects the targets,
locations, times, and nature of the strikes.48 The increasingly vertical char-
acter of war and the more frequent use of unpi­loted drones means that
killing the ­enemy looks more and more like a video game, an experience
of sadism, spectacle, and entertainment.49 And, even more impor­tant,
­these new forms of warfare carried out from a distance require an unpre­
ce­dented merging of the civil, police, and military spheres with ­those of
The spheres of surveillance, meanwhile, are also being reconfigured.
No longer mere state structures, and operating as chains linked in form
only, they function by cultivating private-­sector influence, by expanding
into ­those corporate entities responsible for gathering the data necessary
for mass surveillance. As a result, the objects of surveillance become daily
life, the space of relationships, communication (notably through electronic
technologies), and transactions. ­There is not, of course, a total concatenation
of the mechanisms of the market and t­hose of the state. But in our con­
temporary world the liberal state is transformed into a war power at a time
when, we now realize, capital not only remains fixed in a phase of primitive
accumulation but also still leverages racial subsidies in its pursuit of profit.
In this context the citizen is redefined as both the subject and the ben-
eficiary of surveillance, which now privileges the transcription of biologi-
cal, ge­ne­tic, and behavioral characteristics through digital imprints. In a new

The Subject of Race  23

technetronic regime characterized by miniaturization, dematerialization,
and the fluid administration of state vio­lence, imprints (fingerprints, scans
of the iris and ret­ina, forms of vocal and facial recognition) make it pos­si­ble
to mea­sure and archive the uniqueness of individuals. The distinguishing
parts of the h­ uman body become the foundations for new systems of identi-
fication, surveillance, and repression.50 The security state conceives of iden-
tity and the movement of individuals (including its own citizens) as sources
of danger and risk. But the generalized use of biometric data as a source of
identification and for the automation of facial recognition constitutes a new
type of populace, one predisposed t­oward distancing and imprisonment.51
So it is that, in the context of the anti-­immigration push in Eu­rope, entire
categories of the population are indexed and subjected to vari­ous forms of
racial categorization that transform the immigrant (­legal or illegal) into an
essential category of difference.52 This difference can be perceived as cultural
or religious or linguistic. It is seen as inscribed in the very body of the mi­
grant subject, vis­i­ble on somatic, physiognomic, and even ge­ne­tic levels.53
War and race have meanwhile become resurgent prob­lems at the heart
of the international order. The same is true of torture and the phenomenon
of mass incarceration. It is not only that the line between war and peace has
been blurred. War has become a “gigantic pro­cess of ­labor,” while the mili-
tary regime seeks to impose its own model on the “public order of the peace
state.”54 While some citadels have collapsed, other walls have been strength-
ened.55 As has long been the case, the con­temporary world is deeply ­shaped
and conditioned by the ancestral forms of religious, ­legal, and po­liti­cal life
built around fences, enclosures, walls, camps, circles, and, above all,
borders.56 Procedures of differentiation, classification, and hierarchization
aimed at exclusion, expulsion, and even eradication have been reinvigorated
everywhere. New voices have emerged proclaiming, on the one hand, that
­there is no such ­thing as a universal ­human being or, on the other, that the
universal is common to some h­ uman beings but not to all. O ­ thers empha-
size the necessity for all to guarantee the safety of their own lives and homes
by devoting themselves—­and their ancestors and their memories, in one
way or another—to the divine, a pro­cess that only subtracts them from his-
torical interrogation and secures them completely and permanently within
the walls of theology. Like the beginning of the nineteenth c­ entury, the be-
ginning of the twenty-­first constitutes, from this perspective, a significant
moment of division, universal differentiation, and identity seeking.


The Noun “Black”

In ­these conditions the noun “Black”—­which serves as the anchor for this
book—is less polemical than it seems. In resuscitating a term that belongs
to another era, that of early capitalism, I mean to question the fiction of
unity that it carries within it. Already in his own time, James Baldwin had
suggested that the Black Man (what he and other writers of his day called
the Negro) was not at all easy to define in the abstract. Beyond ancestral
links, ­there was very ­little evidence of an automatic unity between the
Blacks of the United States, the Ca­rib­bean, and Africa. The presence of
Blacks from the Ca­rib­bean in the United States, for example, dates from as
early as the seventeenth ­century. During that period slaves arriving from
Barbados represented a significant portion of the population of V ­ irginia.
Likewise, South Carolina was in many ways a subcolony of Barbados u­ ntil
the beginning of the eigh­teenth ­century. The number of Blacks from the
Ca­rib­bean increased significantly a­ fter the Civil War, from 4,067 to 20,236
between 1850 and 1900. Most of the new arrivals ­were artisans, teachers, and
preachers, but they also included l­awyers and doctors.57 Afro-­Caribbeans
made a key contribution to Black internationalism and the rise of radicalism
in the United States and Africa. But the vari­ous conflicts that accompanied
­these pro­cesses laid bare the distance that often separated the Blacks of
North Amer­i­ca and t­ hose of the islands.58
The Blacks of North Amer­i­ca and the Ca­rib­bean came to know Af-
rica first as a form of difference.59 Most of the Black thinkers of the
period claimed both their Africanness and their Americanness. Th ­ ere
­were very few separatists.60 Even though they constituted an undesir-
able minority in the country of their birth, the Blacks of the United
States belonged to an American “we,” to a subculture that was at once
fundamentally American and lumpen-­Atlantic. This led to the develop-
ment of the motif of double consciousness, which among authors like
Ralph Ellison could lead to a refusal to recognize any filiation with Africa.61
Africa was a drypoint print of a real­ity that was unknowable—­a hy-
phen, a suspension, a discontinuity. And ­those who traveled to Africa
or chose to live ­there never felt at home, assailed as they ­were by the
continent’s strangeness, by its devouring character.62 Their encounters
with the Blacks of Africa from the first constituted an encounter with
another’s other.63

The Subject of Race  25

That said, a long tradition of coidentification and of mutual concern
characterized the relationship of Blacks beyond their dispersion.64 In his
“letter” concerning “the Relations and Duties of F ­ ree Colored Men in
Amer­i­ca to Africa,” Alexander Crummell started from the princi­ple of a
community of kinship linking Africa to its “­children” and “sons” living in
“foreign lands.” By virtue of a relationship of kinship and filiation, he called
on them to take advantage of their rights as inheritors. In his eyes at least,
the right to inherit the cradle of their ancestors in no way contradicted
their desire to belong fully to the “land of their birth,” the United States.
Claiming kinship with Africa and contributing to its regeneration was an
act of self-­love and self-­re­spect. It was, he said, a way to get rid of the shroud
that Blacks had carried from the depths of the tomb of slavery. Crummell’s
Africa had two characteristics. On the one hand, it was an amputated
member of humanity. Prostrated in idolatry and darkness, it lived await-
ing revelation. On the other hand, Africa was the land of unfathomable
natu­ral riches. Its mineral riches w ­ ere colossal. With the race to capture its
trea­sures u­ nder way, its faraway sons should not exclude themselves from
sharing in the spoils. Africa would emerge from its cave, out into the light
of the world, through trade and evangelization. Its salvation would come
from outside, through its transformation into a Christian state.65
­Because of this mutual concern, the encounter between the Blacks of
the United States, the Ca­rib­bean, and Africa was not only an encounter
with another’s other but also, in many cases, an encounter with ­others of
my kind—­a castrated humanity, a life that must at all costs be pulled out
of the dungeon and that needed to be healed. In this encounter Africa was
a transformative force, almost mythico-­poetic—­a force that referred con-
stantly to a “time before” (that of subjection), a force that, it was hoped,
would make it pos­si­ble to transform and assimilate the past, heal the worst
wounds, repair losses, make a new history out of old events, and, according
to the words of Friedrich Nietz­sche on another topic, “[rebuild] shattered
forms out of one’s self.”66
But just beneath the surface of this constellation ­there was always an-
other, carried by ­those who believed that Blacks would never find peace,
rest, or liberty in Amer­i­ca. For their own genius to flourish, they had to
emigrate.67 This constellation saw liberty and territory as indivisible. It was
not enough to build one’s own institutions in the context of worsening
segregation, to acquire expertise and gain respectability, when the right


to citizenship was fundamentally contested, fragile, and reversible. It was
necessary to have one’s own state and to be able to defend it.68 The vision
of exodus was consolidated in par­tic­u­lar between 1877 and 1900, within
three dif­fer­ent proj­ects. The first was that of colonization, which had a rac-
ist dimension to the extent that it aimed, largely through the American
Colonization Society, to rid Amer­i­ca of its Black population by deporting
Blacks to Africa. The second consisted of ­free emigration, spurred by the
rise in vio­lence and racial terrorism, particularly in the South. The third
developed in the context of American expansionism between 1850 and 1900.
Henry Blanton Parks, for example, considered that American Blacks and
Africans formed two distinct races. As a result of their prolonged contact
with civilization, American Blacks ­were more evolved than the natives of
Africa.69 The latter had, on the other hand, preserved a primal power. Com-
bined with what American Blacks brought home to Africa from their cen-
turies of accommodation with civilization, this power would reanimate
the virility of the Black race as a ­whole.70
On one level, then, Black reason consists of a collection of voices, pro-
nouncements, discourses, forms of knowledge, commentary, and non-
sense, whose object is t­hings or p­ eople “of African origin.” It is affirmed
as their name and their truth (their attributes and qualities, their destiny
and its significance as an empirical portion of the world). Composed of
multiple strata, this form of reason dates at least from the time of antiquity.
Numerous works have focused on its Greek, Arab, Egyptian, and even
Chinese roots.71 From the beginning, its primary activity was fantasizing.
It consisted essentially in gathering real or attributed traits, weaving them
into histories, and creating images. The modern age, however, was a de-
cisively formative moment for Black reason, owing, on the one hand, to
the accounts of travelers, explorers, soldiers, adventurers, merchants, mis-
sionaries, and settlers and, on the other, to the constitution of a “colonial
science” of which “Africanism” is the last avatar. A range of intermediar-
ies and institutions—­scholarly socie­ties, universal exhibitions, museums,
amateur collections of “primitive art”—­contributed to the development
of this reason and its transformation into common sense and a habitus.
Black reason was not only a system of narratives and discourses with ac-
ademic pretensions but also the reservoir that provided the justifications
for the arithmetic of racial domination. It was, admittedly, not completely
devoid of a concern for the truth. But its function was first and foremost

The Subject of Race  27

to codify the conditions for the appearance and the manifestation of a
racial subject that would be called the Black Man and, ­later, within colo-
nialism, the Native (L’indigène). (“Who is he?” “How does one recognize
him?” “What differentiates him from us?” “Can he become like us?” “How
should we govern him and to what end?”)72 In this context “Black reason”
names not only a collection of discourses but also practices—­the daily
work that consisted in inventing, telling, repeating, and creating variations
on the formulas, texts, and rituals whose goal was to produce the Black
Man as a racial subject and site of savage exteriority, who was therefore
set up for moral disqualification and practical instrumentalization. We can
call this founding narrative the Western consciousness of Blackness. In seek-
ing to answer the question “Who is he?” the narrative seeks to name a real­
ity exterior to it and to situate that real­ity in relationship to an I considered
to be the center of all meaning. From this perspective, anything that is not
identical to that I is abnormal.
This founding narrative was in real­ity a constellation in perpetual re-
configuration over time. It always took on multiple, contradictory, and
divergent forms. In response came a second narrative, one that saw itself
as a gesture of self-­determination, a way of being pres­ent to oneself and
looking inward, and as a form of utopian critique. The second narrative an-
swered a series of questions of a new kind, again posed in the first person
singular: “Who am I?” “Am I, in truth, what ­people say I am?” “Is it true
that I am nothing more than that—­what I appear to be, what p­ eople see
me as and say of me?” “What is my real social status, my real history?”73 If
the Western consciousness of the Black Man is an identity judgment, this
second narrative is, in contrast, a declaration of identity. Through it the
Black Man affirms of himself that he is that which cannot be captured or
controlled; the one who is not where they say he is, and even less where
they are looking for him. Rather, he exists where he is not thought.74
The written work of the second narrative had a series of distinctive traits
that are worth briefly recalling. It sought, above all, to create an archive.
If Blacks ­were to reclaim their history, the foundation of an archive was
the first step. The historical experiences of Blacks did not necessarily leave
traces, and where they ­were produced, they ­were not always preserved.
How could one write history in the absence of the kinds of traces that
serve as sources for historiographical fact? Very early, it became clear that the
history of Blacks could be written only from fragments brought together


to give an account of an experience that itself was fragmented, that of a
pointillist ­people struggling to define itself not as a disparate composite
but as a community whose blood stains the entire surface of modernity.
Such writing sought, furthermore, to create community, one forged
out of debris from the four corners of the world. In the Western Hemi-
sphere, the real­ity was that a group of slaves and f­ ree ­people of color lived
for the most part in the gray zones of a nominal citizenship, within states
that c­ elebrated liberty and democracy but remained foundationally slave
states. Across the period, the writing of history had a performative dimen-
sion. The structure of the per­for­mance was in many ways theological. The
goal was, in effect, to write a history for the descendants of slaves that re-
opened the possibility for them to become agents of history itself.75 Dur-
ing the period of Emancipation and Reconstruction, the act of writing
history was conceived more than ever as an act of moral imagination. The
ultimate historical gesture consisted in enacting the journey from the sta-
tus of a slave to that of a citizen like all ­others. The new community of freed
­peoples saw itself as linked by common faith and certain ideas of work and
respectability, by moral duty, solidarity, and obligation.76 Yet this moral
identity took shape in the context of segregation, extreme vio­lence, and
racial terror.77
The declaration of identity that is characteristic of the second narrative
was, however, based on profound ambiguity. Although its authors wrote in
the first person and in a mode of self-­possession, they, as subjects, ­were
haunted by the idea that they had become strangers to themselves. They
nevertheless sought to assume their responsibility to the world by creat-
ing a foundation for themselves.78 On the horizon was full and complete
participation in the empirical history of liberty, an indivisible liberty at
the heart of “global humanity.”79 That is the other side of Black reason—­
the place where writing seeks to exorcise the demon of the first narrative
and the structure of subjection within it, the place where writing strug­gles
to evoke, save, activate, and reactualize original experience (tradition) and
find the truth of the self no longer outside of the self but standing on its
own ground.
­There are profound disjunctures but also undeniable solidarities between
the second narrative and the first narrative it sought to refute. The second
was traversed by the traces, marks, and incessant buzzing of the first and,
in certain cases, its dull injunction and its myopia, even where the claim

The Subject of Race  29

of rupture was most forceful. Let us call this second narrative the Black
consciousness of Blackness. It nevertheless had its own characteristics. Liter-
ary, biographical, historical, and po­liti­cal, it was the product of a polyglot
internationalism.80 It was born in the ­great cities of the United States and
the Ca­rib­bean, then in Eu­rope, and ­later in Africa. Ideas circulated within
a vast global network, producing the modern Black imaginary.81 The cre-
ators of the imaginary ­were often p­ eople in motion, crossing constantly
from one continent to another. At times involved in American and Eu­ro­
pean cultural and po­liti­cal life, they participated in the intellectual global-
ization of their epoch.82
Black consciousness of Blackness was also the fruit of a long history of rad-
icalism, nourished by strug­gles for abolition and against capitalism.83 Over
the course of the nineteenth c­ entury in par­tic­ul­ar, this re­sis­tance was to a
large extent driven by international anarchism, the principal vehicle for
opposition movements against capitalism, slavery, and imperialism. But it
was also carried forward by a number of humanitarian and philanthropic cur-
rents in whose strug­gles, as Paul Gilroy reminds us, lay the foundation for an
alternative genealogy of ­human rights.84 The content of the second narrative
was most of all marked by the efforts of ­people subjected to colonization
and segregation who sought to f­ ree themselves from racial hierarchy. The
intelligent­sia among them developed forms of collective consciousness that,
even as they embraced the epistemology of class strug­gle itself, attacked
the ontological assumptions that resulted from the production of racial
The notion of Black reason, then, refers to dif­fer­ent sides of the same
framework, the same constellation. It refers, moreover, to a dispute or a
conflict. Historically, the conflict over blackness has been inseparable from
the question of our modernity. The name raises a question that has to do,
first of all, with the relationship of what we call “man” with animals, and
therefore the relationship of reason to instinct. The expression “Black Rea-
son” refers to a collection of deliberations concerning the distinction be-
tween the impulse of the animal and the ratio of man, the Black Man being
living proof of the impossibility of such a separation. For, if we follow a
certain tradition of Western metaphysics, the Black Man is a “man” who
is not ­really one of us, or at least not like us. Man distinguishes himself
from animality, but this is not the case for the Black Man, who maintains
within himself, albeit with a certain degree of ambiguity, animal possi-


bility. A foreign body in our world, he is inhabited—­under cover—by
the animal. To debate Black reason is therefore to return to the collection
of debates regarding the rules of how to define the Black Man: how he is
recognized, how one identifies the animal spirit that possesses him, ­under
which conditions the ratio penetrates and governs the animalitas.
Second, the expression “Black Reason” turns our attention to the tech-
nologies (laws, regulations, rituals) that are deployed—as well as the devices
that are put in place—­with the goal of submitting animality to mea­sure­ment.
Such calculation aims ultimately to inscribe the animal within the circle of
extraction. Yet the attempt at inscription is inevitably paradoxical. On the
one hand, it requires that the price of that which simply is (facticity)—­
but which carries no price, or only ever a potential price, since it has been
emptied of value—be mea­sured and calculated. On the other hand, the
operation makes clear how difficult it is to mea­sure the incalculable. The
difficulty flows partly from the fact that the ­thing that must be calculated
is part of the ontological—­what thought itself cannot think, even as it de-
mands to be thought, as if in a vacuum. Fi­nally, the term refers to what, in
princi­ple, requires no explanation b­ ecause it is off the books, unaccountable,
part of an antieconomy. Th ­ ere is no need to justify it b­ ecause it creates
nothing. Moreover, ­there is no need to offer an account of it since, strictly
speaking, it is not based on law, and no calculation as such can ever guar-
antee its exact price or value.

Appearances, Truth, and Simulacrum

When we say the word “race,” what do we r­ eally mean? It is not enough to
say that race itself has no essence; that it is nothing more than “the ef-
fect, profile, or cut” of a perpetual pro­cess of power, of “incessant transac-
tions” that modify, displace, and shift its meaning; or that, having no guts
­because it has no insides, it consists only of the practices that constitute
it as such.86 It is not enough, furthermore, to affirm that it is a complex
of microdeterminations, an internalized effect of the Other’s gaze and a
manifestation of secret, unfulfilled beliefs and desires.87 On the one hand,
race and racism are part of the fundamental pro­cess of the unconscious. In
that re­spect they relate to the impasses of h­ uman desire—to appetites, af-
fects, passions, fears. They symbolize above all the memory of a lost origi-
nal desire, or of a trauma whose ­causes often have nothing to do with the

The Subject of Race  31

person who is the victim of racism. On the other hand, race is not only the
result of an optical effect. It is not only a part of the world of the senses. It is
also a way of anchoring and affirming power. It is above all a specular r­ eal­ity
and impulsive force. For it to operate as affect, impulse, and speculum, race
must become image, form, surface, figure, and—­especially—­a structure
of the imagination. And it is as a structure of the imagination that it es-
capes the limitations of the concrete, of what is sensed, of the finite, even
as it ­participates within and manifests itself most immediately through the
senses. Its power comes from its capacity to produce schizophrenic ob-
jects constantly, peopling and repeopling the world with substitutes, be-
ings to point to, to break, in a hopeless attempt to support a failing I.
Race and racism also have the fundamental characteristic of always
inciting and engendering a double, a substitute, an equivalent, a mask, a
simulacrum. A real ­human face comes into view. The work of racism con-
sists in relegating it to the background or covering it with a veil. It replaces
this face by calling up, from the depths of the imagination, a ghost of a
face, a simulacrum of a face, a silhouette that replaces the body and face of
a ­human being. Racism consists, most of all, in substituting what is with
something ­else, with another real­ity. It has the power to distort the real
and to fix affect, but it is also a form of psychic derangement, the mecha-
nism through which the repressed suddenly surfaces. When the racist sees
a Black person, he does not see that the Black person is not ­there, does
not exist, and is just a sign of a pathological fixation on the absence of a
relationship. We must therefore consider race as being both beside and
beyond being. It is an operation of the imagination, the site of an encoun-
ter with the shadows and hidden zones of the unconscious.
I have emphasized that racism is a site of real­ity and truth—­the truth of
appearances. But it is also a site of rupture, of effervescence and effusion.
The truth of individuals who are assigned a race is at once elsewhere and
within the appearances assigned to them. They exist ­behind appearance,
under­neath what is perceived. But they are also constituted by the very
act of assigning, the pro­cess through which certain forms of infralife are
produced and institutionalized, indifference and abandonment justified,
the part that is h­ uman in the other v­ iolated or occulted through forms
of internment, even murder, that have been made acceptable. Foucault,
dealing with racism and its inscription in the mechanisms of the state and
power, noted in this regard that “the modern State can scarcely function


without becoming involved with racism at some point, within certain lim-
its and subject to certain conditions.” Race or racism, “in a normalizing
society,” he noted, “is the precondition that makes killing acceptable.” He
concludes, “Once the State functions in the biopower mode, racism alone
can justify the murderous functions of the State.”88
The ­people to whom race is assigned are not passive. Imprisoned in
a silhouette, they are separated from their essence. According to Fanon,
one of the reasons for their unhappiness is that their existence consists
in inhabiting the separation as if it ­were their real being, in hating what they
are and seeking to be what they are not. The critique of race is, from this
perspective, more than a s­ imple critique of separation. The racial theater is
a space of systematic stigmatization. The call to race or the invocation of
race, notably on the part of the oppressed, is the emblem of an essentially
obscure, shadowy, and paradoxical desire—­the desire for community.89
Such a desire is obscure, shadowy, and paradoxical ­because it is doubly
inhabited by melancholia and mourning, and by a nostalgia for an archaic
that which is always doomed to dis­appear. The desire is at once worry and
anxiety—­linked to the possibility of extinction—­and a proj­ect. Moreover,
it is the language of bemoaning, and of a mourning that rebels in its own
name. It articulates itself around, and creates itself by circumventing, a ter-
rible memory, the memory of a body, a voice, a face, and a name that, if not
completely lost, have at least been ­violated and dirtied, and that must at all
costs be rescued and rehabilitated.90
For Blacks confronted with the real­ity of slavery, loss is first of a ge-
nealogical order. In the New World, the Black slave is legally stripped of
all kinship. Slaves are, in consequence, “without parents.” The condition
of kinlessness is imposed on them through law and power. And eviction
from the world of ­legal kinship is an inherited condition. Birth and de-
scent afford them no right to any form of social relationship or belong-
ing as such.91 In such conditions the invocation of race or the attempt to
constitute a racial community aims first to forge ties and open up space
in which to stand, to respond to a long history of subjugation and bio­
politi­cal fracturing. Aimé Césaire and the poets of Negritude, for example,
made the exaltation of the “Black race” a tremendous cry whose function
was to save from total decay what had been condemned to insignificance.92
As conjuration, announcement, and protest, the cry expressed the ­will of
the enslaved and the colonized to escape resignation, to form a body, to

The Subject of Race  33

produce themselves as a ­free and sovereign community, ideally through
their own work and achievements. They sought to make themselves their
own points of origin, their own certainty, and their own destination in the
We can therefore say of the invocation of race that it is born from a
feeling of loss, from the idea that the community has suffered a separa-
tion, that it is threatened with extermination, and that it must at all costs
be rebuilt by reconstituting a thread of continuity beyond time, space,
and dislocation.94 From this perspective, the call to race (which is dif­fer­
ent from racial assignation) is a way of resurrecting the immolated corpse
that had been buried and severed from the links of blood, soil, institutions,
rites, and symbols that made it a living being. During the nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries, this was the meaning of the call to race in Black
discourse. At times the call became a search for original purity or a desire for
absolute separation. Such was the case for Marcus Garvey, for example. At
other times it was more the expression of a w ­ ill to escape the princi­ple of
immolation and sacrifice. And in other cases it was a response to a desire
for protection in the face of the threat of disappearance, an instinct for
survival and preservation. The goal was to imagine and create a dif­fer­ent
space, where isolation would guarantee protection. Safety would require
a re­distribution of feeling and affect, of perception and speech. What­ever
the case, the racial community was a community founded on the memory
of a loss—­a community of the kinless. It was a “community of loss” in the
way that Jean-­Luc Nancy, dealing with community in general, has defined
it: a space inseparable from death, since it is precisely through death that
community reveals itself.95
Fi­nally, race is one of the raw materials from which difference and
surplus—­a kind of life that can be wasted and spent without limit—­are
produced. It does not m ­ atter that race does not actually exist as such, and
not only ­because of the extraordinary ge­ne­tic homogeneity of ­human be-
ings. It continues to produce its effects of mutilation ­because from the
beginning it is, and always w ­ ill be, that for which and in whose name the
hyphens at the center of society are created, warlike relationships estab-
lished, colonial relationships regulated, and ­people distributed and locked
up. The lives and presence of such p­ eople are considered symptoms of a
delimited condition. Their belonging is contested b­ ecause, according to
the classifications in place, they represent a surplus. Race is an instrumen-


tality that makes it pos­si­ble both to name the surplus and to commit it to
waste and unlimited spending. It is what makes it acceptable to categorize
abstractly in order to stigmatize, disqualify morally, and eventually im-
prison or expel. It is the mechanism through which a group is reified. On
the basis of this reification, someone becomes their master, determining
their fate in a way that requires neither explanation nor justification. We
can therefore compare the work of race to a sacrificial cut, the kind of act
for which one does not have to answer. A dead-­letter address—­this is pre-
cisely what in our modern world the princi­ple of race oversees, producing
its targets as complete signs of radical exteriority.

The Logic of Enclosure

Historically, race has always been a more or less coded way of dividing
and organ­izing a multiplicity, of fixing and distributing it according to a
hierarchy, of allocating it to more or less impermeable spaces according to
a logic of enclosure. Such was the case ­under the regimes of segregation. It
does not much ­matter that, in the age of security, race is expressed through
the sign of religion or culture. Race is what makes it pos­si­ble to identify
and define population groups in a way that makes each of them carriers of
differentiated and more or less shifting risk.
In this context the pro­cesses of racialization aim to mark population
groups, to fix as precisely as pos­si­ble the limits within which they can
circulate, and to determine as exactly as pos­si­ble which sites they can
occupy—in sum, to limit circulation in a way that diminishes threats and
secures general safety. The goal is to sort population groups, to mark them
si­mul­ta­neously as “species,” “classes,” and “cases” through a generalized
calculation of risk, chance, and probability. It is all to prevent the dangers
inherent in their circulation and, if pos­si­ble, to neutralize them in advance
through immobilization, incarceration, or deportation. Race, from this per-
spective, functions as a security device based on what we can call the princi­
ple of the biological rootedness of the species. The latter is at once an
ideology and a technology of governance.
This was the case u­ nder the regime of the plantation, at the time of
apartheid, and in the colony. In each case, race served to assign living be-
ings characteristics that permitted their distribution into such and such
a box on the g­ reat chart of h­ uman species. But it also participated in a

The Subject of Race  35

bioeconomy. Race reconciled masses, classes, and populations, respectively
the legacies of natu­ral history, biology, and po­liti­cal economy. Work and
the production of wealth w ­ ere inseparable from the prob­lems specific to
life and population, the regulation of movement and displacement—in
short, the pro­cesses of circulation and capture. And the pro­cesses of circu-
lation and capture constituted a central dimension of both the technologies
of security and the mechanisms that inscribed ­people within differentiated
juridical systems.
As phenomena, racism and the phobia of ­others share a ­great deal.
Racist logic supports a high degree of baseness and stupidity. As Georges
Bataille noted, it implies a form of cowardice—­that of the man who “attri-
butes to some external sign a value that has no meaning other than his own
fears, his guilty conscience and his need to burden o­ thers, through hatred,
with the deadweight of horror inherent in our condition”; he added that
men “hate, it would seem, to the same extent that they are themselves to
be hated.”96 It is false to think that racist logic is only a symptom of class
warfare, or that class strug­gle is the final word regarding the “social ques-
tion.” Race and racism are certainly linked to antagonisms based on the
economic structure of society. But it is not true that the transformation of
the structure leads ineluctably to the disappearance of racism. For a large
part of modern history, race and class have coconstituted one another.
The plantation and colonial systems ­were the factories par excellence of
race and racism. The “poor Whites” in par­tic­u­lar depended on cultivating
differences that separated them from Blacks to give themselves the sense
of being ­human. The racist subject sees the humanity in himself not by ac-
counting for what makes him similar to o­ thers but by accounting for what
makes him dif­fer­ent. The logic of race in the modern world cuts across
social and economic structures, impacts the movements within them, and
constantly metamorphoses.
As a slave, the Black Man represents one of the troubling figures of our
modernity, and in fact constitutes its realm of shadow, of mystery, of scan-
dal. As a ­human whose name is disdained, whose power of descent and
generation has been foiled, whose face is disfigured, and whose work is
stolen, he bears witness to a mutilated humanity, one deeply scarred by
iron and alienation. But precisely through the damnation to which he is
condemned, and ­because of the possibilities for radical insurgency that he
nevertheless contains and that are never fully annihilated by the mecha-


nisms of servitude, he represents a kind of silt of the earth, a silt deposited
at the confluence of half-­worlds produced by the dual vio­lence of race and
capital. The enslaved, fertilizers of history and subjects beyond subjection,
authored a world that reflects this dark contradiction. Operating in the
bottoms of slave ships, they ­were the first coal shovelers of our modernity.
And if ­there is one ­thing that haunts modernity from beginning to end, it
is the possibility of that singular event, the “revolt of the slaves.” A slave
uprising signals not only liberation but also radical transformation, if not
of the system of property and ­labor itself, then at least of the mechanisms
of its re­distribution and so of the foundations for the reproduction of life

The Subject of Race  37


“Africa” and “Blackness”: ­these two notions took shape together. To speak
of one is to invoke the other. Each consecrates the other’s value. As we
have noted, not all Africans are Blacks. But if Africa has a body, and if it is a
body, a ­thing, it gets it from the Black Man—no ­matter where he finds him-
self in the world. And if the term “Black” is a nickname, if it is that t­ hing,
it is b­ ecause of Africa. Both of t­hese—­the ­thing and that ­thing—­refer to
the purest and most radical difference and the law of separation. They mix
with and burden each other as a sticky weight, at once shadow and m ­ atter.
As this chapter demonstrates, both are the result of a long historical pro­
cess that aimed at producing racial subjects. This chapter examines how
Africa and the Black Man have become signs of an alterity that is impos-
sible to assimilate; they are a vandalism of meaning itself, a happy hysteria.

A Humanity on Reprieve

But what do we mean by “Black” (Nègre)? It is commonly accepted that

the term “Nègre” is of Iberian origin and appeared in the French language
only at the beginning of the sixteenth ­century. But it was only in the eigh­
teenth ­century, at the zenith of the slave trade, that it entered definitively
into common use.1 On a phenomenological level, the term first designates
not a significant real­ity but a field—or, better yet, a coating—of nonsense
and fantasies that the West (and other parts of the world) have woven, and
in which it clothed p­ eople of African origin long before they w ­ ere caught
in the snares of capitalism as it emerged in the fifteenth and sixteenth cen-
turies. A lively ­human of a strange shape, roasted by the rays of the celestial
fire, endowed with an excessive petulance, captive to the empire of joy, and
abandoned by intelligence, the Black Man is above all a body—­gigantic
and fantastic—­member, organs, color, a smell, flesh, and meat, an extra­
ordinary accumulation of sensations.2 If he is movement, it can only be a
movement of contraction while stuck in one place, as a crawling or spasm,
the quivering of a bird, the sound of the hooves of the beast.3 And if it
is strength, it can be only the brute strength of the body, excessive, con-
vulsive, spasmodic, and resisting thought: a wave, rage, ner­vous­ness all at
once, whose domain is to incite disgust, fear, and dread.
So it is in the scene of the l­ ittle boy and the Negro described by Frantz
Fanon: “The Negro is an animal, the Negro is bad, the Negro is wicked,
the Negro is ugly; look, a Negro, it’s cold, the Negro is trembling, the Negro
is trembling b­ ecause he is cold, the s­ mall boy is trembling b­ ecause he’s
afraid of the Negro, the Negro is trembling with cold, that cold that chills
the bones, the lovely l­ittle boy is trembling b­ ecause he thinks that the
Negro is quivering with rage, the ­little white boy runs to his ­mother’s arms:
Mama, the Negro’s ­going to eat me up.” 4 Through a pro­cess of dissemina-
tion but especially of inculcation—­one that has been the subject of many
studies—­this massive coating of nonsense, lies, and fantasies has become
a kind of exterior envelope whose function has since then been to stand
as substitute for the being, the life, the work, and the language of Blacks.
What began on the surface became stratified, transformed into a frame-
work and over time a calcified shell—­a second ontology—­and a canker,
a living wound that eats at, devours, and destroys its victim. Fanon, for
example, in Black Skin, White Masks, deals with the wound and the condi-
tions u­ nder which it can be healed. James Baldwin, comparing the wound
to a poison, asks what it produces in the person who makes and distills it
and in the person to whom it is systematically administered.
Starting in the nineteenth ­century, the shell and canker took on a quasi-­
autonomous existence, at times functioning as an ornamental motif, at
­others as the image of a double, and in an even more sinister way as a
carcass, what is left of the body a­ fter it has been dismembered and stripped
of its flesh. From a strictly historical perspective, the word “Black” refers
first and foremost to a phantasmagoria. Studies of the phantasmagoria
hold interest not only for what they can tell us about t­ hose who produced
it but also for what they say about the timeworn problematic of the status
of appearances and their relation to real­ity (the real­ity of appearances and

The Well of Fantasies  39

the appearance of real­ity), and about the symbolism of color. The pro­cess
of transforming ­people of African origin into Blacks, that is, into bodies of
extraction and subjects of race, largely obeys the t­ riple logic of ossification,
poisoning, and calcification. Not only is the Black Man the prototype of a
poisoned, burnt subject. He is a being whose life is made of ashes.
The noun “Black” is in this way the name given to the product of a pro­
cess that transforms ­people of African origin into living ore from which
metal is extracted. This is its double dimension, at once meta­phorical and
economic. If, u­ nder slavery, Africa was the privileged site for the extrac-
tion of ore, the New World plantation was where it was cast, and Eu­rope
where it was converted into financial currency.5 The progression from
man-­of-­ore to man-­of-­metal to man-­of-­money was a structuring dimension
of the early phase of capitalism. Extraction was first and foremost the tear-
ing or separation of ­human beings from their origins and birthplaces. The
next step involved removal or extirpation, the condition that makes pos­si­
ble the act of pressing and without which extraction remains incomplete.
­Human beings became objects as slaves passed through the mill and w ­ ere
squeezed to extract maximum profit. Extraction not only branded them
with an indelible stamp but also produced the Black Man, or, in the case
that w
­ ill preoccupy us throughout this book, the subject of race, the very
figure of what could be held at a certain distance from oneself, of a ­thing
that could be discarded once it was no longer useful.

Summons, Interiorization, and Reversal

The term “Black,” taken up by Eu­ro­pean avant-­garde movements and then

poets of African origin at the beginning of the twentieth c­ entury, became
the object of a radical reversal. The crisis of conscience that swallowed
up the West at the turn of the c­ entury was linked to a reevaluation of the
African contribution to the history of humanity. Colonial propaganda,
spurred on by Eu­ro­pean military excursions, dwelled on supposed prac-
tices of cannibalism and ancestral hatreds that it claimed had always pitted
natives against each other. From the 1920s on, however, discourse on aes-
thetics, notably among the avant-­garde, viewed Africa as a land of differ-
ence, a reservoir of mysteries, and the ultimate kingdom of catharsis and
the magico-­religious.6 For Picasso, African masks ­were “objects that men
have created with a sacred and magical goal, so that they can serve as inter-


mediaries between them and unknown and hostile forces, in the pro­cess
attempting to overcome their fear by giving it color and form.” The mean-
ing of painting, he claimed, could be found in the commerce between the
made object and the universe of immaterial forms. “It is not an aesthetic
pro­cess,” he concluded. “It is a form of magic that interposes itself be-
tween us and the hostile universe, a way of seizing power by imposing a
form on our terrors as well as our desires.”7
During the first half of the twentieth ­century, the increasing interest in
so-­called exotic cultures was s­ haped decisively by materialism in politics
and the sciences and by positivism in philosophy. The epoch was shad-
owed by fear and anxiety incited by the world wars, but above all by the
real­ity of the death of God, which Friedrich Nietz­sche and the Marquis
de Sade, among ­others, had long since proclaimed. In this context African
art—­and to some extent jazz—­appeared as a celestial path of return to
one’s origins, a kind of grace by which sleeping powers could be awakened,
myths and rituals reinvented, tradition rerouted and undermined, and time
reversed. The figure of Africa as a reservoir of mysteries corresponded with
a certain desire within Western discourse—­a desire that infused postwar
Europe—­for a cele­bration both joyous and savage, without limits or guilt,
in search of a vitalism that had no awareness of evil.
The renewal of an anticolonial critique within aesthetics and politics
­shaped the reevaluation of Africa’s contribution to the proj­ect of a human-
ity to come. The surrealist movement and the proponents of primitivism
­were key contributors to the critique. André Breton in the 1920s declared
that surrealism was connected to “­people of color” and that ­there w ­ ere
­affinities between so-­called primitive thinking and surrealist thinking.
Both, he argued, aimed to eliminate the hegemony of the conscious.8 The
proj­ect was to travel upriver to lost headwaters in order to escape a history
that offered promises of eternity but brought only de­cadence and death.
From this perspective, “the Black model” opened the way for a new kind
of writing, one that hoped to rediscover the savage character of language
and resuscitate the word.9 It was only through the flexibility of idiom that
the fullness of language could be obtained.10
In the wake of World War II, surrealists and libertarian and Trotskyist
militants forged ties with anticolonial activists.11 Their aesthetic criticism,
a blend of anarchism and avant-­gardism, nevertheless had an ambigu-
ous quality. On the one hand, it depended heavi­ly on reflections about

The Well of Fantasies  41

the ­“African soul” and the supposed essence of “the Black Man” that w ­ ere
fash­ion­able at the time. But such speculative constructions ­were inher-
ited ­directly from Western ethnographies and philosophies of history that
dominated the second half of the nineteenth ­century. They ­were based
on the idea that two forms of h­ uman society existed: primitive socie­ties,
which ­were governed by the “savage mentality,” and civilized socie­ties gov-
erned by reason and endowed with, among other ­things, the power that
came from writing. The so-­called savage mentality was not adapted to the
pro­cesses of rational argumentation. It was not logical but rather “prelogical.”
Unlike us, the savage lived in a universe of its own making, impervious
to experience and inaccessible to our ways of thinking.12 Only the White
race possessed a w ­ ill and a capacity to construct life within history. The
Black race in par­tic­u­lar had neither life, nor ­will, nor energy of its own.
Consumed by ancient ancestral hatreds and unending internal strug­gles,
it turned endlessly in circles. It was nothing but inert ­matter, waiting to be
molded in the hands of a superior race.13
The roots of the racial unconscious that subtends the politics of Black-
ness in the con­temporary world can be found in this primitive psy­chol­ogy
about ­peoples and emotions, and other false knowledge inherited from
the nineteenth ­century. In it we encounter a prostrate Africa trapped in
the world of childhood from which the other ­peoples of the earth have
long since escaped. In it we also find the Black Man, a naturally prehistoric
figure struck by a kind of blind consciousness, incapable of distinguishing
between history and mystery, or between history and the marvelous. His
life exhausts and consumes itself, lost in the ­great, undifferentiated night
of ­those who have no names.
Moreover, the aesthetic critique of colonialism never fully departed
from the myth of the existence of “superior ­peoples,” and therefore the
danger or fear of degeneration, or the possibility for regeneration. It did
not distance itself enough from the idea that “Black blood” could play a
central role in the awakening of the imagination and artistic genius. In
many ways the conceptions of art developed between 1890 and 1945 ­were
deeply ­shaped by the idea that civilization had exhausted itself. They drew
a contrast between the supposed vigor of savages and the exhausted blood
of the civilized. ­There ­were indigenous qualities inscribed in the blood of
each race. In the blood of the Black race ran instinct, irrational impulses,
and primal sensuality. The universal power of the imagination was linked


to a “melanin princi­ple,” which provided an explanation for why the blood
of the Blacks disguised the spring from which the arts could burst forth.
Arthur Gobineau in par­tic­ul­ ar believed that within the Black race resided a
profusion of fire, “flames, sparks, drives, thoughtlessness.” Sensuality, imag-
ination, and “all forms of appetite for the material” ­were reflected in the
Black Man and primed him to “experience the impressions produced by
art to a degree of intensity totally unknown among other h­ uman families.”14
Anticolonial critique of an aesthetic, avant-­gardist, and anarchist bent
largely drew on the very colonial myths and ste­reo­types that it sought to
invert. It did not call into question the existence of the cannibal or of a
fundamentally irrational and savage Black world. It sought to embrace all
the symptoms of degeneration—­like sparks of fire—­with the idea that the
ardent power of the Black Man, his furious love of forms, rhythms, and
colors, was the product of that very degeneration.15
Many of the poets of the Negritude movement took a similar approach.
For them, the noun “Nègre” no longer referred to an experience of emptiness
that had to be filled. Through the creative work of Black poets it became
what Aimé Césaire called a “miraculous weapon.” They sought to turn the
name into an active power that would enable Blacks to see themselves in
all their specificity, to discover the deepest springs of life and liberty. A
noun turned into a concept, “Blackness” became the idiom through which
­people of African origin could announce themselves to the world, show
themselves to the world, and draw on their own power and genius to af-
firm themselves as a world. This ­great moment of irruption into universal
life—­the “­great midday,” as Césaire would call it—­was triply an annuncia-
tion, a transfiguration, and a denunciation. “I no longer search: I’ve got
it!” Césaire proclaimed; “my revolt / my name”; “I a man! just a man! . . . ​I
want only the pure trea­sure, / the one which endlessly generates ­others.”16

The Black of the White and the White of the Black

Fanon was right, however, when he suggested that the Black Man was
a figure, an “object,” in­ven­ted by Whites and as such “fixed” by their gaze,
gestures, and attitudes. He was woven “out of a thousand details, anecdotes,
and ­stories.”17 We should add that Whiteness in turn was, in many ways,
a ­fantasy produced by the Eu­ro­pean imagination, one that the West has
worked hard to naturalize and universalize. Fanon himself said of the

The Well of Fantasies  43

two that Blackness did not exist any more than Whiteness did. In real­ity,
­there exists no h­ uman being whose skin color can be strictly described as
white—at least in the sense that one speaks of the white of paper, chalk,
lime, or a shroud. But if both categories refer ultimately to a lack, from
where does this absence—­and therefore the fantasy of Whiteness—­draw
its strength?
In settler colonies like the United States, “White” was a racial category
constructed over time as the institutionalization of l­ egal rights encountered
the regimes of ­labor extortion. Nearly half a c­ entury ­after the creation of the
colony of ­Virginia in 1607, for example, the distinctions between the Afri-
cans and Eu­ro­pe­ans subjected to similarly brutal conditions of exploitation
remained relatively fluid. The Eu­ro­pe­ans ­were captive ­labor, temporary
and exploitable, considered “superfluous” in the metropole. Their status
was similar to that of Africans, with whom they shared certain practices
of sociability: alcohol, sex, marriage. Some emancipated Africans gained
a right to portions of land. On this basis they demanded rights, includ-
ing the right to own slaves. The subaltern community, then, went beyond
race. From the 1660s on, it was responsible for a series of revolts, including
the Indentured Servants’ Plot of 1661, Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, and the
Tobacco Riots of 1682.
The Royal African Com­pany was reor­ga­nized in 1685 in response to
the threat of ongoing insurrections carried out by subaltern classes united
across race. With a steady supply of African slaves, more and more of the
workforce in the colony was composed of enslaved ­people. During the last
years of the seventeenth ­century, the figure of the slave became increas-
ingly racialized. By 1709 the composition of the ­labor force had shifted,
so that Africans enslaved for life far outnumbered indentured laborers of
Eu­ro­pean origin, who ­were forced to work only temporarily and freed at
the end of their terms of captivity.
The pro­cess of racialization was accompanied by a massive regulatory
effort meant to establish clear distinctions between laborers of Eu­ro­pean
origin and Africans, both indentured and enslaved. Beginning in 1661, sys-
tems of punishment ­were structured according to an explic­itly racial logic.
Indentured laborers of Eu­ro­pean origin who joined Africans in marronage
(­running away from plantations) w ­ ere punished with extended periods of
captivity. Sexual relations between races ­were outlawed. The mobility of
slaves was drastically reduced, and the “low Whites” w ­ ere given the task


of patrolling them. Blacks ­were prohibited from carry­ing weapons, while
each former indentured laborer of Eu­ro­pean origin was given a musket.
Three historical determinants, then, explain the power of the fantasy of
Whiteness. First of all, t­ here ­were many who believed in it. But far from
being spontaneous, the belief was cultivated, nourished, reproduced, and
disseminated by a set of theological, cultural, po­liti­cal, economic, and in-
stitutional mechanisms whose evolution and implications over the cen-
turies have been carefully analyzed by critical theorists of race. In several
regions of the world, a ­great deal of work went into transforming White-
ness into a dogma and a habitus. Such was notably the case in the United
States, in other countries with slavery, in most settler colonies, and ­until
recently in South Africa. ­There, racial segregation became a semiotic that
was si­mul­ta­neously a right, a faith, and a doctrine, any transgression of
which could result in a range of punishments, including death.
Second, such mechanisms often functioned to transform Whiteness
into common sense as well as a form of desire and fascination. As long as
a belief does not become desire and fascination, terrifying to some, mere
dividend to ­others, it cannot operate as an autonomous and internalized
power. In this view the fantasy of Whiteness involves a constellation of ob-
jects of desire and public signs of privilege that relate to body and image,
language and wealth. Fantasy, we know, seeks to anchor itself in the real in
the form of an effective social truth. In this, the fantasy of Whiteness suc-
ceeded, for, in the end, it became the mark of a certain mode of Western
presence in the world, a certain figure of brutality and cruelty, a singular
form of predation with an unequaled capacity for the subjection and ex-
ploitation of foreign ­peoples.
Such power manifested itself in vari­ous ways across historical epochs and
geographic contexts: in the exterminations and genocides of the New World
and Australia; in the Atlantic triangle trade based on the slave trade; in the
colonial conquests in Africa, Asia, and South Amer­i­ca; in apartheid in South
Africa; in the dispossession, depredation, expropriation, and pillage carried
out in the name of capital and profit almost everywhere; and, as a crowning
achievement, in the vernacularization of alienation. The fantasy of White-
ness draws part of its self-­assurance from structural vio­lence and the ways
in which it contributes on a planetary scale to the profoundly unequal re­
distribution of the resources of life and the privileges of citizenship. But that
assurance comes also from technical and scientific prowess, creations of the

The Well of Fantasies  45

mind, forms of po­liti­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion that are (or at least seem to be) rela-
tively disciplined, and, when necessary, from cruelty without mea­sure, from
what Césaire identified as a propensity for murder without reason.
For Fanon, the term “Black” is more a mechanism of attribution than
of self-­designation. I am not Black, Fanon declares, any more than I am a
Black Man. Black is neither my last name nor my first name, even less my
essence or my identity. I am a h­ uman being, and that is all. The Other can
dispute this quality, but they can never rob me of it ontologically. The fact
of being a slave or of being colonized—of being the object of discrimina-
tion and bullying, privation and humiliation, b­ ecause of the color of my
skin—­changes absolutely nothing. I remain a complete ­human being no
­matter how violent are the efforts aimed at making me think that I am not
one. This uneliminable surplus escapes all attempts at capture and fixation
within a par­tic­ul­ar social or l­egal status. Even death cannot interrupt it. It
cannot be erased by any name or administrative mea­sure, by any law or
summons, or by any doctrine or dogma. “Black” is therefore a nickname,
a tunic that someone ­else has dressed me in, seeking to trap me within
it. But a separation always exists between the intended meaning of the
nickname and the ­human person who is asked to shoulder it. It is this
distance that the subject is called on to cultivate, even radicalize.
In fact, the noun “Black” has served three functions in modernity:
­those of summoning, internalization, and reversal. It first designated not
­human beings like all ­others but rather a distinct humanity—­one whose
very humanity was (and still is) in question. It designated a par­tic­ul­ ar kind
of ­human: ­those who, ­because of their physical appearance, their habits
and customs, and their ways of being in the world, seemed to represent
difference in its raw manifestation—­somatic, affective, aesthetic, imaginary.
The so-­called Blacks appeared subsequently as individuals who, ­because
of the fact of their ontological difference, represented a caricature of the
princi­ple of exteriority (as opposed to the princi­ple of inclusion). It there-
fore became very difficult to imagine that they w ­ ere once like us, that they
­were once of us. And precisely ­because they ­were not ­either like us or of
us, the only link that could unite us is—­paradoxically—­the link of separa-
tion. Constituting a world apart, the part apart, Blacks cannot become full
subjects in the life of our community. Placed apart, put to the side, piece
by piece: that is how Blacks came to signify, in their essence and before all
speech, the injunction of segregation.


Some of ­those who ­were enclosed in the nickname—­and who, in con-
sequence, ­were placed apart or to the side—­have, at certain moments in
history, ended up inhabiting it. The name “Black” (“Nègre”) has passed
into common use. But does that make it more au­then­tic? Some, in a con-
scious gesture of reversal that at times is poetic and carnivalesque, inhabit
the name only to rebel against its inventors and its reviled heritage as a
symbol of abjection. They instead transform the name into a symbol of
beauty and pride and use it as a sign of radical defiance, a call to revolt,
desertion, or insurrection. As a historical category, Blackness exists only
within ­these three moments: of attribution, of return and internalization,
and of reversal or overthrow. The latter inaugurates the full and uncondi-
tional recuperation of the status of the ­human, which irons and the whip
had long denied.
The Black Man, however, has also always been the name par excellence
of the slave: man-­of-­metal, man-­merchandise, man-­of-­money. The complex
of Atlantic slavery, centered around the plantation system in the Ca­rib­
bean, Brazil, and the United States, was key to the constitution of modern
capitalism. The types of socie­ties and the types of slaves that w ­ ere pro-
duced within the Atlantic complex differed from the Islamic trans-­Saharan
slave-­trading complex and from ­those connecting Africa to the Indian
Ocean. The indigenous forms of slavery in precolonial African socie­ties
­were never able to extract from their captives a surplus value comparable
to that obtained within the regimes of Atlantic slavery in the New World. The
slave of African origin in the New World therefore represents a relatively
singular figure of the Black Man, one fated to become an essential mecha-
nism in a pro­cess of accumulation that spanned the globe.
Through the ­triple mechanism of capture, removal, and objectification,
the slave was forcibly locked within a system that prevented him from freely
making of his life—­and from his life—­something true, something with its
own consistency that could stand on its own. Every­thing produced by the
slave was taken from him: the products of his ­labor, offspring, the work
of his mind. He authored nothing that fully belonged to him. Slaves ­were
considered mere merchandise, objects of luxury or utility to be bought
and sold to ­others. At the same time, however, they ­were h­ uman beings en-
dowed with the ability to speak, capable of creating and using tools. Often
deprived of ­family ties, they ­were deprived as well of inheritance and of the
enjoyment of the fruits of their own ­labor. ­Those to whom they belonged,

The Well of Fantasies  47

and who extracted their unpaid ­labor, denied them their full humanity. Yet,
on a purely ontological level at least, their humanity was never entirely
erased. They constituted, by the force of ­things, a supplemental humanity
engaged in constant strug­gle to escape imprisonment and repetition, and
driven by a desire to return to the place where autonomous creation had
once been pos­si­ble.
The suspended humanity of the slave was defined by the fact that he
was condemned to reconstitute himself perpetually, to announce his radi-
cal, unsinkable desire, and to seek liberty or vengeance. This was especially
true when the enslaved refused the radical abdication of the subject that
was demanded of them. Although legally defined as movable property, slaves
always remained h­ uman, despite the cruelty, degradation, and dehumaniza-
tion directed at them. Through their ­labor in ser­vice of the master, they con-
tinued to create a world. Through gesture and speech, they wove relationships
and a universe of meaning, inventing languages, religions, dances, and ritu-
als and creating “community.”18 Their destitution and the abjection to which
they w ­ ere subjected never entirely eliminated their capacity to create sym-
bols. By its very existence, the community of the enslaved constantly tore
at the veil of hy­poc­risy and lies in which slave-owning socie­ties clothed
themselves. The slaves ­were capable of rebellion and at times disposed of
their own lives through suicide, thus dispossessing their masters of their
so-­called property and de facto abolishing the link of servitude.
­Those who w ­ ere burdened with the name “Black” w ­ ere forcibly placed
in a world apart, yet they retained the characteristics that made them
­human beyond subjection. Over time they produced ways of thinking and
languages that w ­ ere truly their own. They in­ven­ted their own lit­er­a­tures,
­music, and ways of celebrating the divine. They ­were forced to found their
own institutions—­schools, newspapers, po­liti­cal organ­izations, a public
sphere dif­fer­ent from the official public sphere. To a large extent, the term
“Black” is the sign of minoritization and confinement. It is an island of
repose in the midst of racial oppression and objective dehumanization.

The Paradoxes of a Name

The term “Africa” generally points to a physical and geographic fact—­a

continent. But the geographic fact of Africa in turn signifies not only a
state of t­ hings but a collection of attributes and properties—­and a racial


condition. Over time, dif­fer­ent points of reference became attached to a
series of images, words, enunciations, and stigmas, all meant to establish
physical, geographic, and climactic conditions, the supposed attributes of
local populations, their states of poverty, their desperation, and, above all,
their commerce with a form of life whose length was never certain, since
superstition, death, and ugliness always lay close by. “Africa,” then, is the
word through which the modern age seeks to designate two t­ hings. First, it
identifies a certain litigious figure of the ­human as an emptiness of being,
walled within absolute precariousness. Second, it points to the general
question of the inextricability of ­humans, animals, and nature, of life and
death, of the presence of one in the other, of the death that lives in life
and gives it the rigidity of a corpse. Africa is the mask as well as the hol-
low sun, reminding us of the per­sis­tence of death in life through the play
of doubling and repetition.
In modern consciousness, “Africa” is the name generally given to socie­
ties that are judged impotent—­that is, incapable of producing the universal
and of attesting to its existence. Such socie­ties are easy to recognize by the
ways in which they are governed. They are led by high-­flying clowns, cov-
ered in fetishes and bird’s feathers, dressed up like hooded monks, drinking
the best of wines in gold vases, unashamed to seek out prostitutes even on
Holy Friday. The leaders of such potentates took on an autonomous ani-
mal existence long ago, and they carry in their heads nothing except the
corpses of real or ­imagined enemies, killed instantly and left for crows on
a plaza. They are, at their core, superstitious socie­ties, impotent socie­ties
whose world is subjected to, and ruined by, tribal war, debt, sorcery, and
pestilence. They are the underside of the world, in essence the symbol of
the awkward gesture and of the disruption and corruption of time. One can
speak of such a real­ity only anecdotally and from a distance. Like gray pa-
rentheses, an invisible cave of inaccessible ­things, every­thing t­ here is empty,
deserted, and animal, virgin and savage, piled high in surprising disarray.19
As the living figure of difference, the term “Africa” sends us to a world
apart, to that for which we are hardly responsible and with which many
of our contemporaries have difficulty identifying. A world overwhelmed
by harshness, vio­lence, and devastation, Africa is the simulacrum of an
obscure and blind power, walled in a time that seems pre-­ethical, and in
a sense prepo­liti­cal.20 We have difficulty feeling links of affinity with it.
In our eyes, life down ­there is not just ­human life. It appears always as

The Well of Fantasies  49

someone ­else’s life, as o­ thers in some other place, far from us, in an else-
where. They and we both lack the ability to share a common world, so
that the African politics of our world cannot be a politics of the similar. It
can only be a politics of difference—­the politics of the Good Samaritan,
nourished by a sense of guilt, resentment, or pity, but never by an obliga-
tion to justice or responsibility. Say what you w ­ ill, ­there is l­ittle similarity
in humanity between them and us. The link that connects us is not one
between similar beings. We do not share a common world. All of this is
what the term “Africa” certifies.
But what would Africa be without its fetishes and mysteries? At first
glance, they are symbols of petrification, erosion, and fossilization, the
doorway to a “land of fifty degrees of shadow, of convoys of slaves, canni-
bal festivals, empty skulls, of all the ­things that are eaten, corroded, lost.”21
Through fetish and mystery, for the first time, myth and real­ity seem to co-
incide. And once the impassable threshold has been crossed, the dream of
a freeing, cathartic elsewhere becomes pos­si­ble. Writing as well. Possessed
by Africa, one can fi­nally transform one’s identity, shatter the barriers of
difference, overcome the feeling of disintegration, the desire for suicide and
anxiety about death. But the journey has meaning only b­ ecause it leads to a
mountain of signs. Only through dance and trance, via the ­music of heal-
ing, in the midst of cries, gestures, movements—by way of voice, breath,
and a new idea of man—­can the mountain be penetrated. To find Africa is
to experience the loss of identity authorized by possession. It is to submit
oneself to the vio­lence of the fetish that possesses us and, through loss and
the mediation of the fetish, to experience a plea­sure beyond symboliza-
tion. It is in this condition that one can declare, as did Michel Leiris fac-
ing Gondar in Abyssinia: “I am a man. I exist.”22 For, in the end, the fetish
reveals its true nature: the becoming-­form of power and the becoming-­
power of the form. Since the metamorphosis of form into power and
power into form is categorically incomplete, and can never be achieved,
­every relationship to Africa w ­ ill on princi­ple be agnostic, a mix of desire,
disappointment, and, incidentally, regret—­unless, following Leiris, one
comes to understand that archaic existence is not to be found in an else-
where, far away, but within oneself, and that in the end the Other is noth-
ing ­else but ourselves.
The polemical dimension of the term “Africa” flows precisely from the
strange power that resides within it, the terrible ambiguity that it con-


ceals like a mask. One of the functions of a mask, as we know, is to hide
the face by doubling it. The mask is the power of the double, the crossing
of being with appearance. But the person wearing the mask can also see
­others without being seen, and see the under­neath of ­things, like a hidden
shadow. But if being and appearance combine in the mask, it is true as well
that, ­because of the impossibility of seeing the face hidden by the mask,
of peering through the miniscule gap, the mask always denounces itself
as a mask. The name “Africa” plays the role of the mask in the drama
of con­temporary existence. Each invocation of the name covers the body
of the individual in a sea of opaque fabric. It is the very essence of the name
that invites such a foundational pro­cess of erasure and veiling, one that
compromises any possibility of language. Worse still, is not Africa the very
tomb of the image, a massive sarcophagus in which light cannot turn, nor
the members of the body move?
The polemical dimension of the term “Africa” flows from the fundamental
fact that it refers to an empty form that, in the strictest sense, escapes
the criteria of truth and falsehood. Truth, writes Gilles Deleuze, “signi-
fies that a denotation is effectively filled by the state of affairs. . . . ​‘False’
signifies that the denotation is not filled, e­ ither as a result of a defect in
the selected images or as a result of the radical impossibility of producing
an image which can be associated with words.”23 When it comes to the
term “Africa,” every­thing stems from the extraordinary difficulty in pro-
ducing a true image that can be associated with a word that is also true.
The subject who speaks or expresses himself does not, in fact, ­matter very
much. When Africa comes up, correspondence between words, images,
and the t­ hing itself m
­ atters very l­ittle. It is not necessary for the name to
correspond to the ­thing, or for the t­ hing to respond to its name. For that
­matter, the ­thing itself at any moment can lose its name, and the name its
referent, with no consequence for the statement itself, or for what is said
and what is produced, or for who says it and produces it. All that ­matters
is the power of falsehood.
The name “Africa,” then, directs us not only to what nothing is meant
to respond to but also to a kind of primordial arbitrariness, the arbitrari-
ness of designations to which nothing in par­tic­ul­ar seems to need to re-
spond, except for inaugural prejudice in its infinite regression. When one
says the word “Africa,” one generally abdicates all responsibility. The con-
cept of wrongdoing is evacuated on princi­ple. It is presupposed as well

The Well of Fantasies  51

that nonsense is constitutive, from the beginning, of the word itself. In
other words, to say “Africa” always consists in constructing figures and leg-
ends—it ­matters l­ittle which ones—on top of an emptiness. One must
only choose words and images that are nearly alike and add to them similar
images and words with slightly dif­fer­ent meanings, and we end up, e­ very
time, with a tale with which we are already familiar. This is what makes
Africa the ultimate proliferating aggregate, a power that is all the more vo-
racious ­because it rarely secretes its own oneiric quality, tending instead in
most cases to point to the dreams of o­ thers. H ­ ere, the name becomes the
object of a new name, which in turn can designate something totally dif­fer­
ent from the first object. We can therefore say of Africa that it is the symbol
of what is as much outside life as beyond life. It is given over to repetition and
reduction, to death repeated in life, and life that inhabits the mask of death,
at the border of the impossible possibility that is language.
It is an impossible possibility for two reasons. First, as Michel Foucault
says, language—­and, mutatis mutandis, life itself—­offers itself to be read
“as a sun.” Language, in effect, does not only constitute the locus of forms.
It is the very system of life. It is meant to offer up ­things to our gaze, but
with a visibility so stunning that it actually shields what language itself has
to say and what life has to offer. It separates “appearance and real­ity, the
face and the mask with a thin sliver of light.” Foucault adds, “The sun of
language is hidden within the secret; but at the heart of this night where it
is maintained, it is marvelously fecund, causing machines and automaton
corpses, incredible inventions and careful imitations.” In the meantime,
life takes the form of an “imminent afterlife.”24 Second, language is an
impossible possibility ­because, as Deleuze explains, it is constituted by a
paradox with “the highest power of language” on the one hand and, on the
other, “the impotence of the speaker” to “state the sense of what I say, to
say at the same time something and its meaning.”25 For, as Foucault puts it,
“language speaks only from something essential that is lacking.”26 When
you look closely, the term “Africa” has the same characteristics as ­those
that Deleuze and Foucault believe to have identified in language—an es-
sential gap, or, to use Foucault’s words again, a “solar hollow” that blinds us
but, since it is its own mirror, always keeps a nocturnal underside that the
gaze strug­gles to penetrate. Life itself, and not just words, constantly trips
up against the underside. Fanon in any case understood this well: for him,
any examination of the conditions surrounding the production of the self


in a colonial context had to start with a critique of language.27 The critique
of life as a critique of language is, then, precisely what the term “Africa”
invites us to undertake.

The Kolossos of the World

The Black Man serves as witness to this pro­cess. He serves as the very
kolossos of the world, the double of the world, its cold shadow. As Jean-­
Pierre Vernant explains, in ancient Greece the term “kolossos” designated,
first of all, a gigantic effigy. But the effigy is buried in an empty tomb, next
to objects belonging to a dead person. In the night of the tomb, the kolossos
serves as a substitute for the absent corpse. It occupies the place of the de-
ceased. Its role is not, says Vernant, “to reproduce the traits of the deceased,
to give the illusion of their physical appearance. It does not incarnate and
fix in stone the image of the dead. It is, rather, its life in the beyond, life that
is opposed to that of the living, just as the world of night is opposed to the
world of light. The kolossos is not an image; it is a ‘double,’ just as the dead
man himself is a double of the living.”28
The Black Man serves as the kolossos of our world to the extent that
our world can be understood as a g­ iant tomb or cave. In this im­mense
and empty tomb, to say “Black” is to evoke the absent corpses for which
the name is a substitute. Each time we invoke the word “Black,” we bring
out into the light of day all the waste of the world, the excess whose ab-
sence within the tomb is as strange as it is terrifying. As the kolossos of the
world, the Black Man is the fire that illuminates the t­ hings of the cave—­
the ­things of the empty tomb that is our world—as they ­really are. He is
the shadowy axis of the world, like Homer’s Hades, a kingdom of perish-
able ­things, where ­human life is both fleeting and extraordinarily fragile.
The term “Black” is a kind of mnèma, a sign for how life and death, within the
politics of our world, have come to be defined so narrowly in relation to
one another that it is nearly impossible to delimit the border separating
the order of life from the order of death. Within the philosophical horizon
of our time, then, the term “Africa” signifies nothing more than a way of
posing the po­liti­cal question of the desiccation of life—­a manner of ex-
amining the harshness, dryness, and roughness of life, or the vis­i­ble but
opaque and blind forms that death has assumed within the commerce of
the living.

The Well of Fantasies  53

­Behind the word—­what it says and what it hides, or e­ lse what it cannot
say, or perhaps what it says without being able to be heard—­there is a cer-
tain figure of our world, of its body and spirit, as well as some of the most
squalid realities of our time—­there is the scandal of humanity. It is the liv-
ing witness, certainly the most worrying, of the vio­lence of our world and
the iniquity that is its mainspring. As we ponder the world and its ­future,
the scandal of humanity confronts us with the most urgent of demands,
beginning with responsibility and justice. For the word “Africa” stands as a
fundamental negation of ­these very terms.
This negation is the result of the work of race—­the very negation of the
idea of the common, or of common humanity. Race contradicts the idea
of a single humanity, of an essential ­human resemblance and proximity.
Africa, in geographic and ­human terms, has certainly not been the sole
object of this negation. In fact, other parts of the world are currently un-
dergoing a pro­cess of “Africanization.” ­There is consequently something
in the name “Africa” that judges the world and calls for reparation, restitu-
tion, and justice. Its spectral presence in the world can be understood only
as part of a critique of race.

The Partition of the World

In the not-­too-­distant past, race was the privileged language of social con-
flict, if not the m
­ other of all law. It was the unit of mea­sure of difference
and enmity, the main criterion in the strug­gle for life, and the princi­ple of
elimination, segregation, and purification within society. “Modernity” is
in real­ity just another name for the Eu­ro­pean proj­ect of unlimited expan-
sion undertaken in the final years of the eigh­teenth ­century. The expan-
sion of Eu­ro­pean colonial empires was one of the most impor­tant po­liti­cal
questions, both then and at the beginning of the nineteenth ­century. The
nineteenth c­ entury saw the triumph of Eu­ro­pean imperialism. Given the
technical development, military conquests, commerce, and propagation
of Chris­tian­ity that marked the period, Eu­rope exercised a properly des-
potic power over other p­ eoples throughout the world—­the sort of power
that one can exercise only outside of one’s own borders and over p­ eople
with whom one assumes one has nothing in common.
The question of race and of the absence of a community of destiny oc-
cupied Eu­ro­pean po­liti­cal thought for half a c­ entury, u­ ntil about 1780. It


profoundly marked the reflections of thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham,
Edmund Burke, Emmanuel Kant, Denis Diderot, and the Marquis de Con-
dorcet. Eu­ro­pean liberalism was forged in parallel with imperial expan-
sion. It was in relation to expansion that liberal po­liti­cal thought in Eu­rope
confronted such questions as universalism, individual rights, the freedom
of exchange, the relationship between ends and means, the national com-
munity and po­liti­cal capacity, international justice, the nature of the rela-
tionship between Eu­rope and extra-­European worlds, and the relationship
between despotic governance beyond national borders and responsible
representative governance within them.
In many ways our world remains a “world of races,” ­whether we admit it
or not. Although this fact is often denied, the racial signifier is still in many
ways the inescapable language for the stories ­people tell about themselves,
about their relationships with the Other, about memory, and about power.
Our critique of modernity ­will remain incomplete if we fail to grasp that
the coming of modernity coincided with the appearance of the princi­ple
of race and the latter’s slow transformation into the privileged matrix for
techniques of domination, yesterday as t­ oday. In order to reproduce itself,
the princi­ple of race depends on an assemblage of practices whose imme-
diate and direct target is the body of the Other and whose scope is life
in general. Th
­ ese practices, at first prosaic, disparate, and more or less sys-
tematic, ­were subsequently solidified as customs and embodied in insti-
tutions, laws, and techniques whose historical development we can trace
and whose effects we can describe. We must understand the princi­ple of
race as a spectral form of division and h­ uman difference that can be mo-
bilized to stigmatize and exclude, or as a pro­cess of segregation through
which ­people seek to isolate, eliminate, or physically destroy a par­tic­u­lar
­human group.
It has recently been established that the sociobiological transcription of
race dates essentially from the nineteenth ­century. But it was anticipated
by the multisecular discourse of racial war, which historically preceded the
discourse of class war. During the era of the slave trade and colonialism,
however, a new link emerged between, on the one hand, the biological
discourse on race (although the meaning of the biological has always been
quite unstable) and, on the other, a discourse that viewed race meta­phor­
ically within a broader approach to age-­old questions of division and sub-
jection, re­sis­tance and the fragility of the po­liti­cal, of the tenuous but

The Well of Fantasies  55

nevertheless inseparable links between politics and life, politics and the
power to kill, power and the thousands of ways in which to kill or enable
­people to live, or at least survive.
According to Hannah Arendt, race first became a core princi­ple of the
po­liti­cal body (a substitute for the nation) and of bureaucracy as a tech-
nique of domination in the modern age, specifically during the “scramble
for Africa.” Although racism and bureaucracy w ­ ere conceived of and de-
veloped separately, it was in Africa that they first revealed themselves to be
tightly linked.29 The link afforded new potentialities for the accumulation
of power—­the power to dispossess, produce, and manage an exploited
humanity. But the combination of race and bureaucracy also led to the
multiplication of potentialities for destruction, to massacres and forms of
administration that served—as they did in South Africa and in colonies
in southwestern Africa—to create po­liti­cal communities governed by the
princi­ple of race. Race, writes Arendt, “was the emergency explanation of
­human beings whom no Eu­ro­pean or civilized man could understand and
whose humanity so frightened and humiliated the immigrants that they
no longer cared to belong to the same ­human species.”30
As a result of colonization, groups of ­people who did not claim the
same origin and who did not share the same language, much less the same
religion, ­were forced to live together in the midst of territorial entities forged
by the iron of conquest. The entities ­were not, strictly speaking, po­liti­cal
bodies, at least not at first. The vio­lence of war and subjection served most
often as the common link between groups. Such links ­were maintained
through an exercise of power, one of whose functions was literally to invent
races, to classify them, and to establish the necessary hierarchies among
them. The state then took on the task of assuring the integrity and purity
of each, or, rather, of maintaining them all within permanent relations of
The most extreme application of the differentiation of species, of the
idea that races are locked in a biological strug­gle for life in which the
strongest triumphs, took place in South Africa during the long period that
stretched from the eigh­teenth ­century into the twentieth ­century. It cul-
minated in apartheid, when the state leveraged race in a generalized social
strug­gle meant both to infuse the entire social body and to sustain a par­tic­
u­lar relationship to rights and the law. But to comprehend the paradoxes
of what became apartheid by 1948, we must go back to the period stretch-


ing from the fifteenth to the nineteenth c­ entury and take into account the
massive appropriation of land and the partitioning of the world that took
place. To a large extent, the historical and spatial consciousness of the
planet that we have t­oday is rooted in events that began in the fifteenth
­century and that led, by the nineteenth c­ entury, to the division and parti-
tioning of the entire world.
The events ­were themselves the consequence of a considerable migra-
tion of ­peoples across the period. Migration occurred for four dif­fer­ent
reasons. The first was the extermination of entire p­ eoples, notably in the
Amer­i­cas. The second was the deportation, in inhuman conditions, of car-
goes of millions of Blacks to the New World, where an economic system
founded on slavery contributed in a decisive manner to the raw accumula-
tion of transnational capital and to the formation of Black diasporas. The
third was the conquest, annexation, and occupation of im­mense lands
­until then unknown in Eu­rope, and the subjection of their populations to
the law of the foreigner. Before the arrival of the Eu­ro­pe­ans, local socie­ties
had been self-­governed through diverse po­liti­cal forms. The fourth has to
do with the formation of racist states and the logic of the “indigenization”
of colonists, of which the Afrikaners in South Africa are an example.
The brutal stampede out of Eu­rope came to be known as colonization or
imperialism. Colonization was one of the central mechanisms through which
the Eu­ro­pean pretension of universal domination was made manifest. It
was a form of constitutive power whose relationship to land, popula-
tions, and territory brought together the three logics of race, bureau-
cracy, and commerce (commercium) in a way that was new in the history
of humanity. In the colonial order, race operated as a princi­ple of the po­
liti­cal body. Race made it pos­si­ble to classify h­ uman beings in distinct cat-
egories supposedly endowed with specific physical and ­mental properties.
Bureaucracy emerged as a tool of domination, and the network linking
death and commerce operated as the fundamental matrix of power. Power
henceforth made the law, and the content of the law was power.
During this same period, Eu­ro­pean powers devoted themselves to fierce
competition outside Eu­rope. Meanwhile, within, they engaged in a com-
plex pro­cess of the secularization of politics. By the end of the sixteenth
­century, this led, notably in France, to the end of civil war between religious
groups and to the birth of a state that was both legally sovereign and con-
scious of its sovereignty. Two ­factors tempered intra-­European competition

The Well of Fantasies  57

and the rivalries that it engendered. On the one hand, the “Christian na-
tions” of Eu­rope defined themselves as “creators and representatives of an
order applicable to the w ­ hole earth.”31 They confused “civilization” with
Eu­rope itself, persuaded that their continent was the center of the earth.
Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome w ­ ere part of its ancient world. Islam was an
old e­ nemy. Only ­later, with the emergence of the United States, did Eu­rope’s
pretension to world centrality diminish.
­There was increasing interest in foreign p­ eoples starting in the eigh­teenth
­century. But most Eu­ro­pean powers gradually adhered to racial thinking,
which by the nineteenth ­century was a constitutive part of the spirit and
sensibility of the Western world. As Arendt has shown, the politics of race
during the period presented multiple objectives. It sought—­notably in
Germany—to unite p­ eople against foreign domination by awakening a
consciousness of a common origin within them. This led to the emergence
of nationalisms that accorded vital importance to links of blood, f­amily
attachments, tribal unity, and the cult of unmixed origin. The conviction
was that each race exists as a complete and distinct totality. ­Human laws
­were therefore conceived of as equivalent to the laws of the animal world.
The politics of race, then, also operated as an instrument for creating in-
ternal divisions. In this regard race became a weapon of civil war before it
became a weapon of international war.
­There was another current of racial thinking, one that found its most
consequential translation in South Africa. At its center was the idea of a
superhuman endowed with exceptional rights, a superior genius, and a
universal mission—­that of governing the world. This current resisted the
concept of the unity of the ­human species and the equality of all ­people,
founded on a common ancestry. It insisted instead on physical difference and
convinced itself that non-­European p­ eoples had never been able to develop
on their own a form of expression adequate to ­human reason. This cur-
rent nourished the proud language of conquest and racial domination. As
Arendt reminds us, it did not exercise a mono­poly on the po­liti­cal life of
Eu­ro­pean nations. In fact, it “would have dis­appeared in due time together
with other irresponsible opinions of the nineteenth ­century, if the ‘scram-
ble for Africa’ and the new era of imperialism had not exposed Western
humanity to new and shocking experiences.”32
All of ­these currents of thought shared in the conviction that a state
of nature, one in which neither faith nor law governed, reigned outside


of the Eu­ro­pean enclosure. Peace, friendship, and the treaties that codi-
fied intra-­European relations w ­ ere applicable only to Eu­rope and Chris-
tian states. Such being the case, each power could legitimately carry out
far-­off conquests, even at the expense of its neighbors and rivals. It was
accepted that the world order was divided into spheres that separated inte-
rior and exterior. The interior sphere was governed by law and justice, the
conditions not only of social life but also of an international life that had
to be traced, marked out, and cultivated. It was h­ ere, it was thought, that
all ideas of property, payment for work, and the rights of p­ eople ­were de-
veloped. It was h­ ere that cities, empires, and commerce—in short, h­ uman
civilization—were built. But ­there was also, elsewhere, a ­free zone of law-
lessness, a place without rights, where one could pillage and ransack in
good conscience, and where the work of pirates, privateers, buccaneers,
adventurers, criminals, and all sorts of “ele­ments outside the pale of nor-
mal, sane society” had f­ ree reign, their actions justified by the two princi­
ples of ­free trade and the freedom to evangelize.33 This ­free zone had no
borders as such. ­There ­were no fences, no sanctuaries that one could, a
priori, violate.
The line separating Eu­rope and this “World-­outside” could be recog-
nized by the fact that war had no limits t­ here. On the other side of the line,
writes Carl Schmitt, was a zone where only the law of the most power­ful
counted, since ­there ­were no l­egal limits imposed on war. From the be-
ginning, whenever Eu­rope referred to the princi­ple of liberty in relation
to the World-­outside, what was ­really meant was an absence of law and
or­ga­nized civil society, which authorized the f­ ree and unscrupulous use of
force. The assumption was this: the World-­outside was the space in which
­there operated no princi­ple of conduct other than the right of the most
power­ful, ­whether in relation to indigenous p­ eoples or rivals. In other
words, every­thing that happened outside of the walls of Eu­rope was situ-
ated “outside the l­egal, moral and po­liti­cal values recognized on this side
of this line.” If one did find law or justice t­ here, it could only be law that
“the Eu­ro­pean conquerors imported and established, e­ ither in their Chris-
tian missions or in the accomplished fact of a Eu­ro­pean system of justice
and administration.”34
The World-­outside was therefore beyond the line, a frontier that was
always re-­created. It was a f­ ree space of unrestricted conflict, open to f­ ree
competition and f­ree exploitation, where men w ­ ere ­free to confront one

The Well of Fantasies  59

another as savage beasts.35 ­There, the only way to judge war legally or
morally was to ask ­whether it was effective. The World-­outside was not
only a border but also an enclosure. “In the beginning was the fence,”
explains Jost Trier, quoted by Schmitt. “Fence, enclosure, and border are
deeply interwoven in the world formed by men, determining its concepts. The
enclosure gave birth to the shrine by removing it from the ordinary, p­ lacing
it ­under its own laws, and entrusting it to the divine.” “The enclosing ring,”
Schmitt adds, “the fence made by men’s bodies, the man-­ring, is a primeval
form of ritual, ­legal and po­liti­cal cohabitation.”36 Such is the case for two
reasons. First, t­here is nothing that is common to ­human beings in gen-
eral. The common is shared only among men endowed with reason. And,
second, war can never be abolished and can therefore not be the object
of limitations. Permanent war is the central prob­lem of the ­legal order.
One way to limit war is to build fortified citadels, to classify and differenti-
ate between ­those who are protected within the walls of the citadel and ­those
who have no right to it. The latter, as a consequence, cannot enjoy the pro-
tection of weapons and the law.
The next question surrounds occupation and the taking of land. ­Here
the prob­lem has always been to know ­whether the Other, the native, is a
­human being in the same way that t­ hose who are taking his land are. Ac-
cording to what princi­ple can the native be deprived of all rights? From
the beginning one line of argument has focused on the realm of belief,
insisting that the savages worship idols. Their gods are not real gods. They
practice ­human sacrifice, cannibalism, and other types of inhuman crimes
that an evolved person would not commit and that are proscribed even by
nature itself. The savage therefore stands si­mul­ta­neously against humanity
and against nature, and is therefore a stranger to the h­ uman condition in
two ways. In this view the World-­outside is the equivalent of a zone out-
side humanity, outside of the space where ­humans exercise their rights. It
is a space where ­human rights can be exercised only through the suprem-
acy of h­ umans over ­those who are not completely h­ uman. For if ­there are
indeed ­humans in ­these territories, they are fundamentally inhuman.
Their subjection is justified through the allegation that they are slaves
by nature and, therefore, enemies. War against non-­Christians, according
to the ideas of the time, was dif­fer­ent from war against Christians. Sharp
distinctions ­were therefore drawn among dif­fer­ent kinds of enemies and


dif­fer­ent kinds of war. Such distinctions themselves referred to other dis-
tinctions drawn among ­humans to highlight their differences and varied
status. Not all ­humans had the same rights. The civilized had a right to
dominate the noncivilized, to conquer and subjugate the barbarians
­because of their intrinsic moral inferiority, to annex their lands, to occupy
them and make them subjects. The original l­ egal right of intervention was
considered part of “just law,” which could be applied equally to wars of
extermination and to wars of subjugation. Out of the just law of war was
born the just law of property. Schmitt writes,
Just as in international law the land-­appropriating state could treat the
public property (imperium) of appropriated colonial territory as leader-
less, so it could treat private property (dominium) as leaderless. It could
ignore native property rights and declare itself to be the sole owner of
the land; it could appropriate indigenous chieftains’ rights and could
do so w­ hether or not that was a true l­ egal succession; it could create pri-
vate government property, while continuing to recognize certain native
use rights; it could initiate public trustee-­owner­ship of the state; and it
also could allow native use rights to remain unchanged, and could rule
over indigenous ­peoples through a kind of dominium eminens [eminent
domain]. All t­ hese vari­ous possibilities w ­ ere undertaken in the praxis
of the 19th and 20th ­century colonial land appropriations.37
In this case, then, law was a method for creating a juridical founda-
tion for a certain idea of humanity that upheld distinctions between the
race of conquerors and the other of slaves. Only the race of conquerors
could legitimately attribute the quality of being ­human to itself. The qual-
ity of being ­human was not given to all from the beginning. And even if
it had been, this would not abolish difference. In a way, the differentiation
between the soil of Eu­rope and the soil of the colonies was the logical
consequence of the distinction between Eu­ro­pe­ans and savages. ­Until the
nineteenth c­ entury, despite colonial occupation, colonial soil was not iden-
tified as part of the Eu­ro­pean territory of the occupying state. It was always
distinct from it, no ­matter the type of colony—­plantation, extraction, or
settler. Only near the end of the nineteenth ­century did some colonial states
attempt to sketch out ways to integrate colonial territories into the systems
of government and administration of the colonizing states.

The Well of Fantasies  61

National Colonialism

To become a habitus, the logic of races had to be coupled with the logic
of profit, the politics of power, and the instinct for corruption, which
together precisely define colonial practice. In this view the example of
France reveals the weight of race in the formation of imperial conscious-
ness and the im­mense work that had to be carried out so that the racial
signifier—­which is inseparable from any colonial proj­ect—­could penetrate
the soft fibers of French culture.
We can never sufficiently emphasize the complexity and heterogene-
ity of the colonial experience. Th ­ ere ­were remarkable variations from one
period to another and from one territory to another. That said, the racial
signifier was always an essential and even constitutive structure of what
would become the imperial proj­ect. If t­here was one form of subjectiv-
ity that defined colonial relations, race was its symbolic matrix and primal
scene. Take the case of France. The consciousness of empire was the result
of a singular po­liti­cal and psychic investment in which race was at once the
currency of exchange and the use value. Near the end of the 1870s, France
consciously sought to transform the po­liti­cal body of the nation into a po­
liti­cal structure of empire. At the time the pro­cess had two dimensions.
On the one hand, its goal was to assimilate the colonies into the national
body by treating conquered p­ eoples as both “subjects” and, eventually,
On the other hand, the proj­ect progressively put into place a series of
mechanisms through which ordinary French ­people ­were brought to consti-
tute themselves, sometimes without realizing it, as racist subjects, as much
through the way they looked at the world as through their gestures, be­hav­
iors, and language. The pro­cess stretched across a relatively long ­period. It
was founded in par­tic­u­lar on a psycho-­anthropology whose function was
the racial classification of h­ uman species. Theories of in­equality among
races laid the foundation for a system of classification that would also re-
ceive validation through practices of eugenics. Racial classification reached
its peak use during the wars of conquest and u­ nder colonial brutality, and
­later in the 1930s within anti-­Semitism.38 At the turn of the nineteenth
­century, the formation of a racist consciousness, the fact of getting used
to racism, was one of the cornerstones of the socialization of French citi-
zens. It functioned as a form of overcompensation for the sense of national


humiliation provoked by the Prus­sian victory over France in 1870 and was
part of the fabric, if not the raw material, of national pride and patriotic
culture. Known as “the colonial education of the French,” this enterprise
presented colonization as a pathway to a new age of virility.39 The role of
the colony was to be the location for the exaltation of power and the re-
newal of national energy. Such an undertaking required a colossal effort on
the part of the state and the business community. Its goal was not just to
legitimate and promote the imperial proj­ect. It also sought to cultivate and
disseminate the reflexes and ethos of racialism, along with the nationalism
and militarism that ­were its constitutive ele­ments.
As early as 1892, a vast movement of what we might call national colonial-
ism began in France. The national colonialist movement brought together
all of the po­liti­cal families of the period, from centrist Republicans to
Radicals, from Boulangistes and Monarchists to Progressives. It involved
­lawyers, businessmen, clergy, journalists, and soldiers and a complex web
of organ­izations, associations, and committees. Working in both the po­liti­
cal and cultural realms, they sought to give an expressive voice to the co-
lonial idea through a network of newspapers, periodicals, bulletins, and
so-­called scientific socie­ties.40 The g­ reat rib of the imperial proj­ect was
racial difference. It took shape in a number of disciplines: ethnology, ge-
ography, missiology. The thematic of racial difference, in turn, was normal-
ized within mass culture through the establishment of institutions such
as museums and h­ uman zoos; through advertisements, lit­er­a­ture, art, the
creation of archives, and the dissemination of fantastical stories relayed in
the popu­lar press (in magazines such as the Journal Illustré, L’Illustration,
and Tour du Monde and the illustrated supplements of the Petit Journal and
the Petit Parisien); and in international expositions.
Generations of French ­people ­were exposed to pedagogy aimed spe-
cifically at habituating them to racism. It was founded essentially on the
princi­ple that the relationship to Blacks must be a relationship of nonreci-
procity. Nonreciprocity was justified by the qualitative difference between
the races, a thematic that was inseparable from older ideas of blood that
had been used to justify the privileges of the nobility and that ­were now re-
deployed by the colonial proj­ect. P ­ eople became convinced that the civili-
zation of the ­future could be created only with White blood. The ­peoples
who accepted racial intermixing fell into abjection. Salvation depended
on the absolute separation of races. The Black and Yellow multitude was

The Well of Fantasies  63

prolific, a burdensome herd that had to be deported elsewhere and whose
males at the very least had to be sterilized, as some would ­later insist upon
and even try to accomplish.41 Some dreamed of a time in the ­future when
it would be pos­si­ble to fabricate life, to obtain what one was set on obtain-
ing, as a being who could choose. The colonial proj­ect nourished a new
form of raciology, one of whose cornerstones was the dream of upending
the rules of life to pave the way for the creation of a race of g­ iants.
The thematic of the qualitative difference between the races is an old
one.42 It infected and traversed culture over the course of the last quarter
of the nineteenth c­ entury. But it was during the 1930s that it became banal
to the point of representing a kind of common sense.43 It nourished fears
about depopulation, immigration, and “racial grafting,” and even phan-
tasms about the possibility of Asian imperialism.44 The colonial idea and
the racist ethos that was its corollary traveled along many byroads, one of
which was education. Pierre Nora, for instance, ranks the Petit Lavisse
among the “French sites of memory” on the same level as Le tour de France
par deux enfants (1887) by “G. Bruno” (a pseudonym for Augustine Fouil-
lée) and In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. In the Petit Lavisse in
par­tic­u­lar, Republican discourse was steeped in nationalist and militaris-
tic values.45 The educational system and the military system w ­ ere already
in dialogue long before the adoption of the Jules Ferry laws of 1881–1882,
which made school obligatory. Students ­were educated to become citizen-­
soldiers. Civic pedagogy and colonial pedagogy w ­ ere deployed in the
context of a crisis of masculinity and an apparent moral disarmament.
Beginning in the 1880s, all twelve-­year-­old students studied the colonial
expansion of their country in their history textbooks (notably ­those by
Augé and Petit in 1890, Cazes in 1895, Aulard and Debidour in 1900, Calvet
in 1903, Rogie and Despiques in 1905, Delagrave in 1909, and Lavisse in
1920).46 In addition to a prescriptive and normalizing pre­sen­ta­tion of his-
tory, ­there was also a ­children’s lit­er­a­ture (the works of Jules Verne and
illustrated magazines such as Le Petit Français Illustré, Le Petit Écolier, Le
Saint-­Nicolas, Le Journal de la Jeunesse, L’Alliance Française Illustrée, and so
In all of ­these publications, the African is presented not only as a child
but as a stupid child, prey to a handful of petty kings who are cruel and
fierce potentates. This idiocy is the result of the congenital vice of the
Black race, and colonization is a form of assistance, the education and


moral treatment for such idiocy. It is an antidote to the spirit of cruelty
and the anarchic functioning of “indigenous ­peoples.” From this point of
view, it is a gift of civilization. Colonization was viewed as a form of gen-
eral treatment for the idiocy of races predisposed to degeneration. Such
a belief led Léon Blum himself to say in 1925: “We admit the right and
even the duty of superior races to attract to themselves ­those which have
not reached the same degree of culture, and to call them to the pro­gress
realized thanks to the efforts of Science and Industry.” 47 Colonists are not
cruel and avid masters but guides and protectors. French troops are he-
roic and intrepid. They remove the iron yokes from slaves and unshackle
their legs. The newly emancipated poor are so happy that they sing and
dance, which proves inarguably that France is good and generous to the
­people that it subjugates. Jean Jaurès affirmed as much in 1884: “We can
say to ­these ­people confidently that . . . ​wherever France is established, she
is beloved; that wherever she has only passed through, she is missed; that
wherever her light shines, it is benevolent; that where it does not shine, it
leaves ­behind a long and soft twilight in which eyes and hearts remained
chained.” 48
At first glance, the reasons put forth to justify colonialism w ­ ere of an
economic, po­liti­cal, military, ideological, or humanitarian order: conquer-
ing new lands in order to ­settle the excess population of France; finding
new outlets for the nation’s products, factories and mines; accessing raw
materials for French industries; planting the flag of “civilization” among
inferior races and savages and piercing the shadows that surrounded them;
using colonial domination to assure peace, security, and riches for t­hose
who had never before experienced such benefits; establishing, in infidel
lands, a hardworking, moral, and Christian population and thus spreading
the gospel among pagans; and destroying the isolation created by pagan-
ism through the introduction of commerce. But all of t­ hese justifications
mobilized the racial signifier, which was never considered a subsidiary
­factor. Race always appears in the argument for colonialism, operating si­
mul­ta­neously as a material matrix, a symbolic institution, and a psychic
component of the consciousness of empire. In the defense and illustration
of colonization, no justification escapes a priori from the general discourse
on what ­were considered at the time to be the qualities of the race.
Such was the case, particularly near the end of the nineteenth ­century
and the beginning of the twentieth, b­ ecause ­there prevailed in the West

The Well of Fantasies  65

an interpretive system about the world that viewed history as a strug­gle
to the death for existence. Numerous writings published in the 1920s, for
example, by more or less well-­known essayists are infused with a radical
racial pessimism. The heart of culture at the time was haunted by the idea
of degeneration, the opposite of social Darwinism.49 ­These ideas ­were
certainly contested and attacked. But many firmly believed that the strug­
gle for life was one that opposed fundamentally dif­fer­ent ­human groups,
­peoples, or races. Each was believed to have stable characteristics, and to
be endowed with a biological inheritance that had to be defended, pro-
tected, and preserved. Not only individuals held this belief. It was also a
cardinal dimension of the colonial policies of the Eu­ro­pean states and of
the ways in which each conceived of the right of war against non-­European
­peoples and entities.
As Paul Leroy-­Beaulieu explained at the time, the colonial order was
a way of ratifying the relations of power that resulted from such strug­
gle. Colonization, he argued, “was the expansion power of a ­people, its
power of reproduction, its expansion and multiplication across space; it
is the submission of the universe or a vast portion of it to its language, its
customs, its ideas and its laws.”50 The colonial order was founded on the
idea that humanity was divided into species and subspecies that could be
differentiated, separated, and classed hierarchically. Both from the point
of view of the law and in terms of spatial arrangements, species and sub-
species had to be kept at a distance from one another. The Précis de légis-
lation et d’économie coloniales by Alexandre Mérignhac (published in 1912
and reissued in 1925) is explicit on this point. To colonize, he writes, “is
to put oneself in relation to new countries in order to profit from the re-
sources of all kinds in them. . . . ​Colonization is therefore an establishment
founded in a new country by a race of advanced civilization, in order to
realize the . . . ​goal we have just mentioned.”51 It is no exaggeration to say
that the colonial state functioned only through the nationalization of the

Frivolity and Exoticism

The French logic of racial assignation had three distinct traits. The first—­
and prob­ably the most impor­tant—­was the refusal to see, the practice of
occultation and denial. The second was the practice of restoration and


disguise. The third was a tendency t­oward frivolity and exoticism. Th ­ ere
exists in France a very long tradition of erasure, of the relegation of the
vio­lence of race to the realm of what is not worth showing, knowing, or al-
lowing to be seen. The tradition of dissimulation, denial, and camouflage,
whose reactualization we see in the con­temporary context, dates from the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It emerged in the founding context,
at a time when France was seeking to codify its relationship to its slaves.
An edict of 1570 limited both the entrance of Blacks into metropolitan
territory and the exhibition or loading of Black slaves in the ports of the
country.52 With this inaugural gesture, France announced its ­will not to
know anything about the victims of its racial logic—­a logic for which the
Black slave represented the most accomplished witness at the time. That
the slave was the object of such a ban can perhaps be explained by the fact
that ­there is nothing to see in the Black slave other than a “nothing being.”
But the exclusion of all that Black slaves would make apparent from the
realm of what could be represented prob­ably had another goal: the veiling
of the economic and commercial mechanisms through which they came
to be produced as slaves.
This slow pro­cess dates to the beginnings of the slave trade, which itself
peaked during the eigh­teenth ­century, in the ­middle of the Enlightenment
period. New ideas about the relationship between subjects and authority
developed while France was deeply implicated in the “triangle machine” that
produced slavery and servitude overseas. In their philosophical work, Jean-­
Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire in par­tic­u­lar recognized the vile character
of the trade in slaves. But they pretended ignorance of the traffic that was
­under way at the time, and of the chains that made it pos­si­ble. In the pro­cess
they inaugurated a tradition that would l­ater become one of the central
characteristics of the consciousness of empire: making slavery a meta­phor
for the condition of ­human beings in modern Eu­ro­pean society. Tragic
events concerning savages, in which Eu­ro­pe­ans ­were partly implicated
as responsible parties, ­were turned into meta­phors. This gesture of igno-
rance, this dialectic of distance and indifference, dominated the French
The second distinctive trait of the French logic of racial assignation was
the practice of cleansing, disfiguration, and disguise. The relegation of the
Black slave to the realm of the unrepresentable, to that about which we do
not want to know anything, was not the same as the pure and s­ imple ban

The Well of Fantasies  67

on the figuration or repre­sen­ta­tion of Blacks. On the contrary, the French
logic of race from the beginning has operated on the basis of the annexa-
tion of the racial Other and its cleansing through the ­triple wash of exoti-
cism, frivolity, and entertainment. From the start, ­people w ­ ere willing to
see the Black Man only as the object of disguise, through costume, color,
or scenery. In painting or theater it was necessary u­ ntil relatively recently
to dress him up in an oriental costume, in turbans and feathers, in puffy
pants or ­little green clothes.54 Paradoxically, in order to emerge into the
realm of the vis­i­ble, his face could not show traces of the fundamental vio­
lence that from the beginning had stolen his humanity and reconstituted
him as Black.
Most preferable ­were ­little ebony Black girls, l­ittle Black boys, and
colored pages playing the role of the lady’s companion, treated as par-
rots, dolls, or some other kind of pet. Th ­ ere ­were laughing Blacks, care-
free, good dancers, good Blacks with their good masters, ­free slaves who
­were grateful and loyal, whose role was to foreground the magnanimity
of Whites. None of this is a recent invention. As a habitus, it sedimented
progressively over a long period. ­These w ­ ere the types of Blacks who, in
the nineteenth c­ entury, ­were tolerated at court, in the salons, in painting,
and in the theater. As Sylvie Chalaye writes, “they amused the gatherings
of high society, brought a touch of exoticism and color to balls, as the
paint­ers of the period show: Hogarth, Raynolds, Watteau, Lancret, Pater,
Fragonard, Carmontelle.”55 To a large extent, French racism was a willfully
carefree, libertine, and frivolous racism.56 Historically, it was always deeply
linked to a society that was itself carefree and libertine and never wanted
to open its eyes to “the terrible dunghill hidden u­ nder the gilding and the
It is impor­tant to pause a moment on the figure of the Black ­Woman,
a figure that played a key role in the articulation of racism, frivolity, and
libertinage in France. The three privileged loci of this articulation w ­ ere
lit­er­a­ture, painting, and dance. ­Here, too, the tradition is an old one. The
figure of the Black ­Woman haunts Charles Baudelaire’s entire corpus, and
it is pos­si­ble that the “flowers of evil” directly refer to it. ­W hether it is
Dorothée l’Africaine (encountered on the Île de Bourbon in 1841) or Jeanne
Duval (who was born in Haiti and was Baudelaire’s lover for twenty years),
the evocation of “Black beauties” was always connected to descriptions
of their svelte voluptuousness, their naked breasts, their feathered ­belts,


and their hindquarters, with or without satin underwear.58 The figure of
the Black ­Woman constituted one of the most fertile sources for artistic
creation for the poet. More broadly, it was a central, though ambivalent,
feature of French exoticism. On the one hand, it called up the sense of a
physical world, of rhythm and color. On the other hand, it was associated
with the ideal of the hermaphrodite. “Black beauties” ­were seen as indo-
lent, available, and submissive. They w ­ ere living examples of the triumph
of lust, activating the phantasmagoric impulses of the French male, who, in
turn, could imagine himself as a White explorer at the borders of civiliza-
tion. Discovering savages, he mixed with them by making love to one or
more of their ­women, in a landscape of boats in harbors, a tropical para-
dise of gleaming palm trees and the scent of tropical flowers.
Similarly evocative scenes w­ ere interspersed in the writings of François-­
René de Chateaubriand, alongside ­those of lions procreating. ­Free ­under
the banana trees, with pipes full of incense, drinking coconut milk u­ nder
the arcade of fig trees and in forests of clove and acajou trees, one of the
heroes proclaims that he wants to “devour the leaves of your bed, for where
you sleep is as divine as the nest of African swallows, like the nest served at
the t­ able of our kings, made of the debris of flowers and the most precious
of spices.”59 In his poem “Reine noire” (“Black Queen”), Guillaume Apol-
linaire drew on the same poetic-­exotic fiber, bringing together beauty,
nakedness, and sensuality. His Black W ­ oman is characterized by her white
teeth, her dark mane, her blue body, and her firm breasts. As for o­ thers,
we know of Henri Matisse’s Haïtienne (1943) and her whispering lace, the
symbol of happy sensuality and the light of desire; of Pablo Picasso’s Les
Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), Femme nue (1910), and Femme au bord de la
mer (Baigneuse) (1909), which offer a glimpse of the phantasm of a devour-
ing Black female sexuality; and of Georges Braque’s Femme assise (1911).
It is prob­ably the figure of Josephine Baker that cemented this form
of casual, insouciant, and libertine racism within France’s popu­lar culture
and exotic imaginary. The following account of scenes performed by Bak-
er’s troupe during a rehearsal in Paris in the 1920s aptly summarizes this
mode of racism: “We ­don’t understand their language, we ­can’t find a way
to tie the scenes together, but every­thing ­we’ve ever read flashes across our
enchanted minds: adventure novels, glimpses of enormous steamboats
swallowing up clusters of Negroes who carry rich burdens, a caterwauling
­woman in an unknown port, . . . ​stories of missionaries and travelers,

The Well of Fantasies  69

Stanley, the Tharaud ­brothers, Batouala, sacred dances, nurses, the Negro
soul with its animal energy, its childish joys, the sad bygone time of slav-
ery, we had all that listening to the singer with the jungle voice.”60

Blinding Oneself

The other foundation for the consciousness of empire has always been the
tremendous ­w ill to ignorance that, in ­every case, seeks to pass itself off
as knowledge. The ignorance in question h­ ere is of a par­tic­ul­ ar kind: a casual
and frivolous ignorance that destroys in advance any possibility of an en-
counter and a relationship other than one based on vio­lence. In his “Lettre
sur l’Algérie,” Tocqueville highlights precisely this policy of ignorance. He
suggests that, in the context of the policy of empire (which is just another
name for a policy of war), the ­will to ignorance is based on the princi­ple ac-
cording to which “on the field of ­battle, victory goes . . . ​to the strongest, and
not the most knowledgeable.”61 The fact that colonizers knew almost noth-
ing, and w­ ere not worried about learning much of anything, can be explained
by their conviction that, when it came to relations with Africans, vio­lence
would always compensate for the absence of truth or the lack of law.
For a long time, in the Western imagination, Africa was an unknown land.
But that hardly prevented phi­los­o­phers, naturalists, geographers, mission-
aries, writers, or ­really anyone at all from making pronouncements about
one or another aspect of its geography, or about the lives, habits, and cus-
toms of its inhabitants. Despite the flood of information to which we now
have access and the number of academic studies at our disposal, it remains
unclear ­whether the ­will to ignorance has dis­appeared, not to mention the
age-­old disposition that consists in making pronouncements on subjects
about which one knows ­little or nothing. In 1728 Jean-­Baptiste Labat con-
cisely summarized the idea that truth did not ­matter at all when it came
to Africa: “I have seen Africa, but I have never set foot ­there.”62 In France
and in much of Eu­rope from the eigh­teenth ­century on, narratives of all kinds
flourished, in encyclopedia entries; works of geography; treatises of natu­
ral history, ethics, or aesthetics; and novels, plays, and collections of poetry.
The majority of such legends, ethnographic reveries, and occasional travel
narratives dealt with Africa. From the beginning of the Atlantic trade, the
continent became an inexhaustible well of phantasms, the raw material for
a massive ­labor of imagination whose po­liti­cal and economic dimensions


we can never underscore enough. Nor can we emphasize enough how much
it continues to inform, up to the pres­ent, our repre­sen­ta­tions of Africans,
their lives, their work, and their languages.
As we have noted, such false knowledge of Africa is above all misun-
derstanding and fantasy. But ­here one fantasizes only in order to exclude,
to close in on oneself. One fantasizes only to veil the kind of sovereign
disdain that always accompanies claims that the Other is our “friend,”
­whether the “friendship” is real or imaginary, reciprocal or not. The French
variant of the vio­lence of race always takes the form of a face that, as soon
as it is born and gazed on, must be immediately rendered invisible. It is as
if it convokes a voice only to muffle it as soon as it is audible, thus reducing
it to silence, preventing it from expressing itself in the first person singular
form. The imaginary object that erupted into the psychic life of the West at
the dawn of the slave trade has two ­faces that have remained connected to
one another, like a mask and its double in a tragic play of mirrors.
The first is a diurnal face—­a geographic location and a region of the
world about which almost nothing is known but which is described with
an apparent authority, the authority of fiction. Description oscillates con-
stantly between two extremes. Africa is sometimes a strange land, marvelous
and blinding, and at other times a torrid and uninhabitable zone. It appears
sometimes as a region afflicted with an irreparable sterility; at o­ thers, as a
country blessed with spontaneous fertility. It is also, often, the name of
something ­else, something colossal and impenetrable, whose enormity is
mixed up with figures of the monstrous and of absolute license, a license
that is at times poetic, sometimes carnivalesque, too often cynical and
shadowy—­a horrible mix of fetishism and cannibalism. But what­ever the
beauty or ugliness of its face, the destiny of Africa is to be possessed.
Victor Hugo explained as much in phallic terms during a banquet com-
memorating the abolition of the slave trade in 1879:
It is ­there, in front of us, that block of sand and ash, that inert and
passive mound which for six thousand years has been an obstacle to
the march of universal pro­gress, this monstrous Ham that stops Sem
with its enormity: Africa. Oh what a land is Africa! Asia has its history,
Amer­i­ca has its history, even Australia has its history, dating back to its
beginnings in ­human memory. Africa has no history. ­There is a kind of
vast and obscure legend enveloping it. Rome touched it in order to get

The Well of Fantasies  71

rid of it, and when Rome thought it had been delivered from Africa it
cast upon this im­mense death one of ­those untranslatable epithets: Af-
rica portensa, it is both more and less than a marvel, it is what is absolute
within horror; Africa, in effect, is the tropical blaze, and it seems as if
to see Africa is to be blinded: an excess of sun and an excess of night.63
He added this command:
Africa imposes on the universal such a suppression of movement and
circulation that it limits universal life, and the march of ­human pro­gress
can no longer accept that a fifth of the globe remains para­lyzed. . . . ​To
make old Africa fit for civilization, that is the prob­lem. Eu­rope ­will re-
solve it. Go, p­ eoples, take this land! Who owns it? No one! Take this
land that is God’s land. God gives land to men. God offers Africa to
Eu­rope. Take it! . . . ​Pour your surplus into Africa and, at the same
time, solve your social prob­lems. Transform your proletarians into
property-­owners. . . . ​Go, build roads, build ports, build cities, expand,
cultivate, multiply, and may the divine spirit affirm itself through peace
in this land, more and more f­ree from the influence of priests and
At the time the knowledge of the continent was full of lacunae. It was
founded essentially on rumors, on erroneous and unverifiable phantasms
and suppositions. Perhaps they functioned as metonymies for the moral
deficiencies of the time, or as mechanisms through which Eu­rope at the
time sought to reassure itself by compensating for its own sense of insuf-
ficiency. But no ­matter. As Jonathan Swift remarked in “On Poetry” (1733),
wise geographers engaged in making maps of Africa “with savage pictures
fill their gaps.” “And o­ ’er unhabitable downs / Place elephants for want of
Then ­there is the nocturnal face. Eu­rope does not simply conjure an
imaginary object. It offers itself an imaginary ­human being, the Black Man.
He was first called “Nègre” (a kind of h­ uman ­thing, or quantifiable mer-
chandise) and then “Black Man” (l’homme noir), in which they located
an imperishable substance called the “Black soul.” At its origin, the term
“Black Man” served first and foremost to describe and imagine African dif-
ference. It mattered l­ittle that “Nègre” designated the slave while “Black
Man” designated the African who had not yet been subjected to slavery.


Particularly during the period of the slave trade, it was the presumed ab-
sence of humanity that characterized the difference. Color was, from this
perspective, only the exterior sign of a basic indignity, a foundational form
of degradation. Over the course of the eigh­teenth and nineteenth centu-
ries, the epithet or attribute “Black” referred to this inaugural absence. At
the time, the term “Black Man” was the name given to a species of ­human
who, although h­ uman, barely deserved the name of h­ uman. It was not
known ­whether this species ­really was ­human; it was sometimes described
as “the most atrocious creature of the h­ uman race,” at o­ thers as a dark mass
of undifferentiated m ­ atter of flesh and bone—as a “natu­ral” man, in the
words of François Le Vaillant in his 1790 travel account.66
The term “Black Man” is also the name given to the polygamist whose
temperament and misery predispose him to vice, indolence, luxury, and
dishonesty. Indeed, in a l­ater description of the sexuality of this kind of
man, the writer Michel Cournot said that he had a “sword”: “When the
[sword of the Black Man] has pierced your wife, she w ­ ill have felt something”
in the order of a “revelation.” But this kind of sword also leaves ­behind a
sort of abyss in which “your charm is lost.” 67 The penis of the Black Man
is compared to a palm or a breadfruit tree that ­will never grow limp, even
for an empire. He is a man whose wives, usually numerous, are slaves to
lascivious dances and sensual pleasures, as Olfert Dapper wrote as early as
1686.68 To hypersexuality was added idolatry, primitivism, and paganism,
all of which ­were henceforth interconnected. Fi­nally, the Black Man’s dif-
ference could be recognized distinctly in the black membrane that was his
wooly hair, in his smell, and in his limited intellectual capacities.
In the lexicon of the nineteenth ­century, the term “Black” was a major
component of the taxonomy of segregation that dominated the discourse
on ­human diversity. The term served to designate “that man” about which
Eu­rope kept asking questions as it encountered him: “Is this another man?
Is this other than a man? Is he an example of the same or other than the
same?” Suddenly, to call someone a “Black Man” was to define him as a
being that was biologically, intellectually, and culturally predetermined by
his irreducible difference. He belonged to a distinct species. And it was as
a distinct species that he must be described and cata­logued. For the same
reason, he was the object of a distinct moral classification. In the proto­
racist Eu­ro­pean discourse in question ­here, to say “Black Man” was to evoke
the disparities of the h­ uman species and refer to the inferior status to

The Well of Fantasies  73

which he was consigned. It was to call up a historical period during which
all Africans carried the status of potential merchandise, or, in the terminol-
ogy of the time, of a pièce d’Inde.69

On the Limits of Friendship

Let us now turn to another aspect of the vocabulary of the period—­that

which deals with friendship t­ oward Africans. ­Here, too, we find an old and
deeply ambiguous French tradition.70 Its goal was to end the racial hostil-
ity that was characteristic of the consciousness of slavery and empire. The
tradition has two facets. The more vis­i­ble side of friendship was s­ haped
by the logic of universalization and directly influenced by concerns about
ethics and law. Th­ ere was a search for, if not full equality, at least a sense of
equity and justice. But friendship in this sense did not come from links of
kinship or even of familiarity with or proximity to Blacks. It aimed rather to
be callout, a friendship of quotation that cited the very slave about which
French society wanted to know nothing. It was meant as a cry or protest
with a po­liti­cal dimension. This new politics demanded a way of behaving
­toward Blacks that was just, based on the recognition that between them
and us t­ here existed a degree of mutuality. Th­ ere was an obligation to re-
spond to them. The friendship was founded on the idea that, in the end,
the difference between them and us was not irreducible.
On its less vis­i­ble side, friendship was fundamentally a friendship of
compassion, of empathy and sympathy ­shaped by encounters with Black
suffering. Beginning in the eigh­teenth c­ entury, and influenced by authors
such as Jean-­Baptiste Du Tertre and Labat, and the works of the Abbé Raynal
(Histoire des deux Indes, 1770), Louis-­Sébastien Mercier (L’an 2440, 1771),
and the Marquis de Condorcet (Réflexion sur l’esclavage des Nègres, 1781),
the French public was made aware of the cruel and inhuman character
of the slave trade. Although several of t­ hese works argued for the equality
of the races, most pushed only for an enlightened application of colonial
policy and of the Code Noir promulgated by Louis XIV in 1685. The domi-
nant idea of the period was that Blacks w ­ ere made to be slaves b­ ecause
of their inferiority. Only in the ser­vice of a good master could they attain
happiness. In many ways the activities of the abolitionist Société des Amis
des Noirs was rooted in this politics of kindness.


The politics of kindness also ­shaped the fiction and novels of the period,
such as Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, translated into French in 1745. The book
opened the way for a “negrophile” current in French lit­er­a­ture evident in
the works of Jean-­François Saint-­Lambert (Ziméo, 1769), Joseph Lavallée
(Le Nègre comme il y a peu de Blancs, 1789), and Germaine de Staël (Mirza,
1795). Olympe de Gouges’s play L’esclavage des noirs was performed at the
Comédie-­Française in 1789. But this sympathy largely decreased a­ fter the
insurrection of the slaves in Saint-­Domingue and the massacres of planters
in Guadeloupe during the 1790s. ­These events made it pos­si­ble to suppress
abolitionism in the following de­cades, notably u­ nder Napoleon, whose
politics ­were profoundly racist.71 Only starting in the 1820s was ­there a re-
birth of currents of sympathy ­toward Blacks, in works by Prosper Mérimée
(Vivre, 1829), Claire Duras (Limites, 1823), George Sand (Indiana, 1832), and
Alphonse de Lamartine (Louverture, 1850). ­There was a vein of this kind of
friendship, founded on the politics of kindness, that did not fundamentally
contest the prejudice of inferiority directed ­toward Blacks. It subscribed
to the idea that the Black Man lived in a miserable and sordid condition,
and it accepted that ­there ­were physical, anatomical, and ­mental disparities
between Eu­ro­pe­ans and Africans. It did acknowledge, however, that, de-
spite their inferior status, Africans w­ ere still endowed with speech. They
merited the same compassion accorded to other h­ uman beings. And their
inferiority did not give us the right to abuse their weaknesses. On the con-
trary, it imposed on us the duty to save them and elevate them to our level.
During the period of the slave trade, most of the “Friends of the Blacks”
­were convinced that Africans w ­ ere inferior but did not believe that they
deserved to be reduced to slavery ­because of it.72 They attributed to the
Black Man an allegorical role within a largely speculative history of hu-
manity. In their eyes, the Black Man was the living symbol of an ancient
humanity, happy and s­ imple. During the colonial period, the idea passed
on to the “African peasant,” held as the prototype of child-­humanity and
of the s­ imple life, joyous and without artifice. In his noble savagery, the
child-­human, draped in the innocent night of primitive times, lived in har-
mony with nature and with the spirits who lived in the forest or sang in the
springs. The “Friends of the Blacks” could challenge the institution of slav-
ery and condemn its effects. Voltaire, for instance, confronted the ­cruelty
and cupidity of the slave-­owning planters, in the pro­cess demonstrating

The Well of Fantasies  75

his sense of universalism and pity. But even as he denounced the evil sys-
tem of slavery, his discourse remained inscribed within the paradigm of
In his Essai sur les moeurs et l’esprit des nations (1789), for instance, he
could affirm:
Their round eyes, squat noses, and invariable thick lips, the dif­fer­ent
configuration of their ears, their woolly heads and the mea­sure of their
intellects, make a prodigious difference between them and other spe-
cies of men; and what demonstrates, that they are not indebted for this
difference to their climates, is that Negro men and ­women, being trans-
ported into the coldest countries, constantly produce animals of their
own species; and that mulattoes are only a bastard race of black men
and white w ­ omen, or white men and black w
­ omen, as asses, specifically
dif­fer­ent from ­horses, produce mules by copulating with mares.73
Hugo, meanwhile, swore by one detail, “which is but a detail, but is
im­mense: . . . ​W hites made Blacks into men; . . . ​Eu­rope ­will make Africa
into a world.”74 This same detail was evoked by Jules Ferry in 1885 when he
defended a colonial policy that disregarded the rights of man—­a doctrine
that successive French governments have been committed to applying to
Africa ever since then. “We must speak louder and more truthfully!” Ferry
exclaimed. “We must say openly that in effect the superior races have a
right with regards to inferior races.” The Declaration of the Rights of Man
had not been “written for the Blacks of Equatorial Africa.” “I repeat that
superior races have a right ­because they have a duty. They have the duty to
civilize the inferior races.”75
The dogma of the “civilizing mission” infused most of the attempts at
solidarity with Blacks, even during the anticolonial strug­gles. French an-
ticolonialism was never monolithic.76 ­There ­were ­those, on the one hand,
who still wanted a colonial empire but believed that it should be founded
on humanism and efficiency. On the other hand, ­there ­were t­ hose who re-
fused to recognize the right of France to impose its ­will on foreign ­peoples
in the name of civilization. Between the 1890s and the beginning of the
twentieth ­century, Jaurès, for example, accepted the concept of the civiliz-
ing mission, which he defined in terms of volunteer work. But his posi-
tion changed in 1905 when Gustave Rouanet of the newspaper L’Humanité
exposed scandals in the Congo.77 Before his conversion to nationalism,


Charles Péguy published exposés on the conditions in the two Congos in
his Cahiers de la Quinzaine.78 But he called for reform, not for the abandon-
ment of the civilizing mission. The socialist Paul Louis and the Anarchists,
however, offered an uncompromising critique of colonialism.79 Louis in
par­tic­u­lar considered colonialism an organic manifestation of capitalism
in an era that saw the expansion of mechanization, the ruin of small in-
dustry, and the continual growth of the proletarian army. His anticolonial
critique was part of a position that saw the working class as the privileged
institution for the unification of ­future humanity. Colonialism, for such
critics, had the capacity to universalize class conflict. This critique was de-
ployed during a period when the strug­gles of workers ­were beginning to
impose limitations on forms of overexploitation in countries at the center
of capitalism. The result of such successes was the appearance of a salaried
class that was more or less integrated in the expanded cir­cuits of accumula-
tion. For this fragile equilibrium to hold, the most brutal methods of over-
exploitation ­were delocalized into the colonies. Capital depended heavi­ly
on its racial subsidies to mitigate the crises of accumulation.

The Well of Fantasies  77


­ hether in lit­er­a­ture, philosophy, the arts, or politics, Black discourse has

been dominated by three events: slavery, colonization, and apartheid. Still
­today, they imprison the ways in which Black discourse expresses itself.
­These events have acquired certain canonical meanings, three of which are
worth highlighting. First, as we have suggested in the previous chapters,
­there is separation from oneself. Separation leads to a loss of familiarity with
the self to the point that the subject, estranged, is relegated to an alienated,
almost lifeless identity. In place of the being-­connected-­to-­itself (another
name for tradition) that might have ­shaped experience, one is constituted
out of an alterity in which the self becomes unrecognizable to itself: this is
the spectacle of separation and quartering.1 Second is the idea of disappro-
priation.2 This pro­cess refers, on the one hand, to the juridical and economic
procedures that lead to material expropriation and dispossession, and, on
the other, to a singular experience of subjection characterized by the falsi-
fication of oneself by the other. What flows from this is a state of maximal
exteriority and ontological impoverishment.3 Th ­ ese two gestures (material
expropriation and ontological impoverishment) constitute the singular ele­
ments of the Black experience and the drama that is its corollary. Fi­nally,
­there is the idea of degradation. Not only did the servile condition plunge
the Black subject into humiliation, abjection, and nameless suffering. It also
incited a pro­cess of “social death” characterized by the denial of dignity, dis-
persion, and the torment of exile.4
In all three cases, the foundational events that ­were slavery, colonialism,
and apartheid played a key role: they condensed and unified the desire
of the Black Man to know himself (the moment of sovereignty) and hold
himself in the world (the moment of autonomy).

Liberalism and Racial Pessimism

From a historical perspective, the emergence of the plantation and the col-
ony as institutions coincides with the very long period in the West during
which a new form of governmental reason emerged and was affirmed: that
of mercantile reason. It considered the market as the ultimate mechanism
for exchange and the privileged locus of the veridiction both of the po­liti­cal
and of the value and utility of ­things in general. The expansion of liberal-
ism as an economic doctrine and a par­tic­u­lar art of governance took place
at a time when Eu­ro­pean states, in tight competition with one another
and against the backdrop of the slave trade, w ­ ere working to expand their
power and saw the rest of the world as their economic domain and within
their possession.
The plantation specifically and l­ater the colony w­ ere in gestation from
the second half of the fifteenth ­century. They constituted an essential
machinery within a new form of calculation and planetary consciousness.
It considered merchandise to be the elemental form of wealth and saw the
cap­i­tal­ist mode of production as being fundamentally about the im­mense
accumulation of merchandise. Merchandise had value only to the extent
that it contributed to the formation of wealth, which constituted the rea-
son for its use and exchange. From the perspective of mercantilist reason,
the Black slave is at once object, body, and merchandise. It has form as
a body-­object or an object-­body. It is also a potential substance. Its sub-
stance, which creates its value, flows from its physical energy. It is work-­
substance. In this view the Black Man is material energy. This is the first
door through which he enters into the pro­cess of exchange.
As an object of value to be sold, bought, and used, the Black Man also
has access to a second door. The planter who purchases a Black slave does
so neither to destroy nor to kill him but rather to use him in order to pro-
duce and augment the planter’s own power. Not all Black slaves cost the
same. The variability in price corresponds to the formal quality attributed
to each of them. But any use of the slave diminishes the attributed formal
quality. Once subjected to use, consumed and exhausted by their owner,

Difference and Self-­Determination  79

the object returns to nature, static and henceforth unusable. In the mercan-
tilist system, the Black Man is therefore the body-­object, the merchandise,
that passes from one form to another and—­once in its terminal phase, ex-
hausted, destroyed—is the object of a universal devalorization. The death
of the slave signals the end of the object and escape from the status of
Mercantilist reason thinks of the world as an unlimited market, a
space of ­free competition and ­free circulation. The two approaches to the
world that developed during the period were linked: the idea of the globe
as a surface connected by commercial relations that cross state borders
and thus threaten sovereignty, and the birth of international law, civil law,
and cosmopolitan law, whose combined goal was to guarantee “perpetual
peace.” The modern idea of democracy, like liberalism itself, was inseparable
from the proj­ect of commercial globalization. The plantation and the colony
were nodal chains holding the proj­ect together. From their beginnings, as we
well know, the plantation and the colony w ­ ere racial dispositions whose
calculus revolved around an exchange relationship based on property and
profit. Part of liberalism, and racism, is therefore based on naturalism.
In his study The Birth of Biopolitics, Michel Foucault highlights the fact
that, at its origin, liberalism “entails at its heart a productive/destructive
relationship [with] freedom.” He forgot to specify that the high point,
historically, of the destruction of liberty was the enslavement of Blacks.
According to Foucault, the paradox of liberalism is that it “must produce
freedom, but this very act entails the establishment of limitations, con-
trols, forms of coercion, and obligations relying on threats, ­etc.” The pro-
duction of liberty therefore has a cost whose calculating princi­ple is, adds
Foucault, security and protection. In other words, the economy of power
that defines liberalism, and the democracy of the same name, depends on
a tight link between liberty, security, and protection against omnipresent
threat, risk, and danger. Danger can result from the poor adjustment of
the mechanisms balancing the diverse interests that make up the po­liti­cal
community. But it can also come from outside. In both cases “liberalism
turns into a mechanism continually having to arbitrate between the free-
dom and security of individuals by reference to this notion of danger.” The
Black slave represents the danger.5
One of the motors of liberalism is the permanent animation, or the re-
actualization and placement into circulation, of the topic of danger and

80  CHAPTER Three

threat—­and the resulting stimulation of a culture of fear. If the stimula-
tion of a culture of fear is the condition, the “internal psychological and
cultural correlative of liberalism,” then, historically, the Black slave is its
primary conduit.6 From the beginning, racial danger has been one of the
pillars of the culture of fear intrinsic to racial democracy. The consequence
of fear, as Foucault reminds us, has always been the broad expansion of
procedures of control, constraint, and coercion that, far from being aber-
rations, constitute the counterpart to liberty. Race, and in par­tic­u­lar the
existence of the Black slave, played a driving role in the historical formation
of this counterpart.
The plantation regime and, ­later, the colonial regime presented a prob­
lem by making race a princi­ple of the exercise of power, a rule of sociabil-
ity, and a mechanism for training p­ eople in be­hav­iors aimed at the growth
of economic profitability. Modern ideas of liberty, equality, and democ-
racy are, from this point of view, historically inseparable from the real­
ity of slavery. It was in the Ca­rib­bean, specifically on the small island of
Barbados, that the real­ity took shape for the first time before spreading to
the En­glish colonies of North Amer­i­ca. ­There, racial domination would
survive almost all historical moments: the revolution in the eigh­teenth
­century, the Civil War and Reconstruction in the nineteenth, and even
the g­ reat strug­gles for civil rights a ­century l­ater. Revolution carried out
in the name of liberty and equality accommodated itself quite well to the
practice of slavery and racial segregation.
­These two scourges ­were, however, at the heart of the debates surround-
ing in­de­pen­dence. Seeking to enlist slaves in the fight against the revolu-
tion, the En­glish offered them sparkling promises of liberty. From then
on, the specter of a generalized insurrection of the slaves—an old fear, part
of the American system from its beginnings—­shadowed the War of In­de­
pen­dence. In fact, during the hostilities tens of thousands of slaves pro-
claimed their own freedom. ­There ­were impor­tant defections in ­Virginia.
But t­ here was a gap between the way Blacks conceived of their liberty (as
something to conquer) and the ideas of the revolutionaries, who saw it
as something that should be gradually granted. At the end of the conflict,
the slave system was not dismantled. The Declaration of In­de­pen­dence
and the Constitution ­were clearly texts of liberation, except when it came
to race and slavery. A new kind of tyranny was consolidated at the very
moment of liberation from tyranny. The idea of formal equality between

Difference and Self-­Determination  81

White citizens emerged in a roundabout way from the revolution. It was
the consequence of a conscious effort to put social distance between
Whites on the one hand and African and Native American slaves on the
other. The dispossession of the latter was justified through references to
their laziness and lust. And if ­later, during the Civil War, ­there was a rela-
tively equal amount of blood spilled by Whites and Blacks, the abolition
of slavery did not lead to compensation for ex-­slaves.
In this regard the chapter in Alexis de Tocqueville’s portrait of Ameri-
can democracy devoted to “the Pres­ent State and Probable F ­ uture of the
Three Races that Inhabit the Territory of the United States” is particularly
in­ter­est­ing. He writes both of the race of men “par excellence,” the Whites,
the “first in enlightenment, in power, in happiness,” and of the “unfortu-
nate races”: Blacks and Native Americans. ­These three racial formations
are not part of the same ­family. They are not just distinct from one another.
Every­thing, or almost every­thing, separates them: education, law, origins,
and external appearance. And the barrier that divides them is, from his
point of view, almost insurmountable. What unites them is their potential
enmity, since “the Eu­ro­pean is to the men of other races what man himself
is to the animals” to the extent that he “makes them serve his purposes,
and when he cannot make them bend, he destroys them.” Blacks have
been the privileged subjects of this pro­cess of destruction, since their op-
pression has taken from them “nearly all the privileges of humanity.” “The
Negro of the United States has lost even the memory of his country; he no
longer hears the language spoken by his ­fathers; he has renounced their
religion and forgotten their mores. While thus ceasing to belong to Africa,
however, he has acquired no right to the good t­hings of Eu­rope; but he
has stopped between the two socie­ties; he has remained isolated between
the two ­peoples; sold by the one and repudiated by the other; finding in
the ­whole world only the home of his master to offer him the incomplete
picture of a native land.”7
For Tocqueville, the Black slave embodies all the traits of debasement
and abjection. He arouses aversion, repulsion, and disgust. A herd animal,
he is the symbol of castrated and atrophied humanity from which emanates
poisoned exhalations: he is a kind of constitutive horror. To encounter the
slave is to experience an emptiness that is as spectacular as it is tragic. What
characterizes him is the impossibility of finding a path that does not always
return to servitude as its point of departure. It is the slave’s taste for subjec-

82  CHAPTER Three

tion. He “admires his tyrants even more than he hates them, and finds his
joy and his pride in servile imitation of ­those who oppress him.” As the
property of another he is useless to himself. Since he does not dispose of
the property of himself, “the care for his own fate has not devolved upon
him. The very use of thought seems to him a useless gift from Providence,
and he peacefully enjoys all the privileges of his servility.” The enjoyment
of the privileges of servility is an almost innate disposition. ­Here is a slave
who is not in a strug­gle with his master. He risks nothing, not even his life.
He does not strug­gle for his animal needs, much less to express sovereignty.
He prefers his servitude and recoils when faced with death: “Servitude
brutalizes him and liberty destroys him.” The master, by contrast, lives in
a ­constant fear of menace. The terror that envelops him is the possibility
of being killed by his slave, a mere figure of a man that he does not even
recognize as fully ­human.8
The fact that ­there is not a single Black person who has come freely to
the shores of the New World is, for Tocqueville, one of the g­ reat dilemmas
of American democracy. For him, ­there is no solution to the prob­lem of
the relationship between race and democracy, even though the central fact
of race constitutes one of the ­future dangers for democracy. “The most
formidable of all the evils that threaten the f­uture of the United States
arises from the presence of Blacks on their soil.” “You can make the Negro
­free, but he remains in the position of a stranger vis-­à-­vis the Eu­ro­pean.” In
other words, the emancipation of the slaves cannot erase the stain of igno-
miny on them ­because of their race—­the ignominy that means that Black
necessarily rhymes with servitude. “The memory of slavery dishonors the
race, and race perpetuates the memory of slavery,” claims Tocqueville. “In
this man who is born in lowliness,” furthermore, “in this stranger that slav-
ery introduced among us, we scarcely acknowledge the general features of
humanity. His face appears hideous to us, his intelligence seems limited to
us, his tastes are base; we very nearly take him for an intermediate being
between brute and man.”9
In liberal democracy, formal equality can therefore be paired with the
natu­ral prejudice that leads the oppressor to disdain t­hose who w ­ ere
once his inferior even long a­ fter they have been emancipated. Without
the destruction of prejudice, equality can only be imaginary. Even if the
law makes of the Black Man an equal, he ­will never be like us. Tocqueville
insists that t­ here is an “insurmountable distance” separating the Blacks of

Difference and Self-­Determination  83

Amer­i­ca from the Eu­ro­pe­ans. The difference is unchangeable. It has its
roots in nature itself, and the prejudice that surrounds it is indestructible.
For this reason, the relationship between the two races can only oscillate
between the degradation of the Blacks and their enslavement by Whites,
on the one hand, and the fear of the destruction of Whites by the Blacks,
on the other. The antagonism is unsurpassable.10
The second kind of fear experienced by the White master is that he w ­ ill
be confused for the debased race and end up resembling his former slave.
It is impor­tant, therefore, to keep his slaves at the margins, as far away from
himself as pos­si­ble—­thus the ideology of separation. Even if the Black
Man has obtained formal liberty, “he is not able to share e­ ither the rights
or the pleasures or the l­abors or the pains or even the tomb of the one
whose equal he has been declared to be; he cannot meet him anywhere,
­either in life or in death.” As Tocqueville specifies, “the gates of heaven
are not closed to him: but in­equality scarcely stops at the edge of the other
world. When the Negro is no more, his bones are thrown aside, and the
difference in conditions is found again even in the equality of death.” In
fact, racial prejudice “seems to increase proportionately as Negroes cease
to be slaves,” and “in­equality becomes imprinted in the mores as it fades in
the laws.” The abolition of the princi­ple of servitude does not necessarily
signify the liberation of the slaves and equal access. It only contributes to
transforming them into “unfortunate remnants” doomed to destruction.11
Tocqueville believes that the question of the relationship between race
and democracy can be resolved only in one of two ways: “Negroes and
Whites must ­either blend entirely or separate.” But he conclusively sets
aside the first solution. “I do not think that the white race and the black
race ­will come to live on an equal footing anywhere.” This kind of mixing
would only be pos­si­ble, he argues, ­under a despotic regime. In a democ-
racy the liberty of Whites can only be v­ iable if accompanied by the segre-
gation of Blacks and the isolation of the Whites among themselves. Since
democracy is fundamentally incapable of resolving the racial question, the
question that remains is how Amer­i­ca can ­free itself of Blacks. To avoid a
race war, Blacks must dis­appear from the New World and return home, to
their countries of origin. This ­w ill allow an escape from slavery “without
[Whites] having anything to fear from ­free Negroes.” Any other option
would result only in the “the ruin of one of the two races.”12

84  CHAPTER Three

­Human like All O
­ thers?

In Tocqueville’s period the terms of the question ­were therefore clear: could
Blacks govern themselves? The doubt regarding the aptitude of Blacks for
self-­governance led to another, more fundamental doubt, one deeply em-
bedded in the modern approach to the complex prob­lem of alterity—­and
to the status of the African sign in the midst of the economy of alterity. To
understand the po­liti­cal implications of ­these debates, we must remember
that, despite the romantic revolution, Western metaphysics has traditionally
defined the ­human in terms of the possession of language and reason. In
effect, ­there is no humanity without language. Reason in par­tic­ul­ ar confers
on the h­ uman being a generic identity, a universal essence, from which
flows a collection of rights and values. It unites all ­humans. It is identical in
each of them. The exercise of this faculty generates liberty and autonomy,
as well as the capacity to live an individual life according to moral princi­
ples and an idea of what is good. That being the case, the question at the
time was ­whether Blacks ­were ­human beings like all ­others. Could one
find among them the same humanity, albeit hidden u­ nder dif­fer­ent desig-
nations and forms? Could one detect in their bodies, their language, their
work, or their lives the product of h­ uman activity and the manifestation of
subjectivity—in short, the presence of a conscience like ours—­a presence
that would authorize us to consider each of them, individually, as an alter
­These questions gave rise to three dif­fer­ent kinds of answers with rela-
tively distinct po­liti­cal implications. The first response was that the h­ uman
experience of Blacks should be understood as fundamental difference.
The humanity of Blacks had no history as such. Humanity without his-
tory understood neither work nor rules, much less law. ­Because they had
not liberated themselves from animal needs, Blacks did not see e­ ither giv-
ing or receiving death as a form of vio­lence. One animal can always eat
another. The African sign therefore had something distinct, singular, even
indelible that separated it from all other ­human signs. The best testament
to this was the Black body, its forms and colors.13 The body had no con-
sciousness or any of the characteristics of reason or beauty. It could not
therefore be considered a body composed of flesh like one’s own, ­because
it belonged solely to the realm of material extension as an object doomed

Difference and Self-­Determination  85

to peril and destruction. The centrality of the body—­and especially of its
color—in the calculus of po­liti­cal subjection explains the importance
assumed by theories of the physical, moral, and po­liti­cal regeneration
of Blacks over the course of the nineteenth c­ entury. ­These theories de-
veloped conceptions of society and the world—­and of the good—­that
claimed an absence among Blacks. They lacked the power of invention
and the possibility of universalism that comes with reason. The repre­
sen­ta­tions, lives, works, languages, and actions of Blacks—or even their
deaths—­obeyed no rule or law whose meaning they themselves could, on
their own authority, conceive or justify. ­Because of this radical difference,
this being-­apart, it was deemed legitimate to exclude them in practice and
in law from the sphere of full and complete h­ uman citizenship: they had
nothing to contribute to the work of the universal.14
A significant shift occurred at the moment of abolitionism and the end
of the slave trade. The thesis of Blacks as “­humans apart” certainly per-
sisted. But ­there was a slight slippage within the old economy of alterity
that permitted a second kind of response. The thesis of nonsimilarity was
not repudiated, but it was no longer based on the emptiness of the sign as
such. Now the sign was filled with content. If Blacks ­were beings apart, it
was ­because they had ­things of their own, customs that should not be abol-
ished or destroyed but rather modified. The goal was to inscribe differ-
ence within a distinct institutional system in a way that forced it to operate
within a fundamentally inegalitarian and hierarchical order. The subject
of this order was the native, and the mode of governance that befitted him
was indirect administration—an inexpensive form of domination that, in
the British colonies especially, made it pos­si­ble to command natives in
a regularized manner, with few soldiers, and to pit them against one an-
other by bringing their own passions and customs into play.15 Difference
was therefore relativized, but it continued to justify a relationship of in­
equality and the right to command. Understood as natu­ral, the in­equality
was nevertheless justified by difference.16 ­Later, the colonial state used
custom, or the princi­ple of difference and in­equality, in pursuit of the goal
of segregation. Specific forms of knowledge (colonial science) ­were pro-
duced with the goal of documenting difference, purifying it of plurality
and ambivalence, and fixing it in a canon. The paradox of the pro­cess of
abstraction and reification was that it presented the appearance of recog-
nition. But it also constituted a moral judgment since, in the end, custom

86  CHAPTER Three

was singularized only to emphasize the extent to which the world of the
native, in its naturalness, did not coincide in any way with our own. It was
not part of our world and could not, therefore, serve as the basis for a com-
mon experience of citizenship.
The third response had to do with the policy called assimilation. In
princi­ple, the idea of assimilation was based on the possibility of an ex-
perience of the world common to all h­ uman beings, or rather on the pos-
sibility of such an experience as premised on an essential similarity among
all ­human beings. But this world common to all ­human beings, this simi-
larity, was not granted outright to natives. They had to be converted to it.
Education would be the condition u­ nder which they could be perceived
and recognized as fellow h­ uman beings. Through it, their humanity would
cease to be indefinable and incomprehensible. Once the condition was
met, the assimilated became full individuals, no longer subject to custom.
They could receive and enjoy rights, not by virtue of belonging to a par­
tic­u­lar ethnic group, but ­because of their status as autonomous subjects
capable of thinking for themselves and exercising that par­tic­u­lar ­human
faculty that is reason. The assimilated signaled the possibility that the Black
Man could, u­ nder certain conditions, become—if not equal or similar to
us—at least our alter ego. Difference could be abolished, erased, or reab-
sorbed. Thus, the essence of the politics of assimilation consisted in desub-
stantializing and aestheticizing difference, at least for the subset of natives
co-­opted into the space of modernity by being “converted” or “cultivated,”
made apt for citizenship and the enjoyment of civil rights.

The Universal and the Par­tic­u­lar

When Black criticism first took up the question of self-­governance at the

end of the Atlantic slave trade, and then during the strug­gles for decoloni-
zation, it inherited ­these three responses and the contradictions they had
engendered. Criticism essentially accepted the basic categories then used
in Western discourse to account for universal history. The notion of civi-
lization was one of the categories.17 It authorized the distinction between
the ­human and the nonhuman—or the not-­yet-­sufficiently h­ uman that
might become ­human if given appropriate training.18 The three vectors
of the pro­cess of domestication w ­ ere thought to be conversion to Chris­
tian­ity, the introduction of a market economy through l­ abor practices, and

Difference and Self-­Determination  87

the adoption of rational, enlightened forms of government.19 Among the
first modern African thinkers, liberation from servitude meant above all
the acquisition of the formal power to decide autonomously for oneself.
Postwar African nationalism followed the tendencies of the moment by
replacing the concept of civilization with that of pro­gress. But this was
simply a way to embrace the teleologies of the period.20 The possibility of
an alternative modernity was not excluded a priori, which explains why
debates about “African socialism,” for example, ­were so intense. But the
problematic of the conquest of power dominated anticolonial national-
ist thought and practices, notably in cases involving armed strug­gle. Two
central categories ­were mobilized in the strug­gle to gain power and to jus-
tify the right to sovereignty and self-­determination: on the one hand, the
figure of the Black Man as a “suffering ­will,” a victimized and hurt subject,
and, on the other, the recovery and redeployment by Blacks themselves of
the thematic of cultural difference, which, as we have seen, was at the heart
of colonial theories of inferiority and in­equality.
Defining oneself in this way depended on a reading of the world that
­later ideological currents would amplify, one that laid claim as much to
progressivism and radicalism as to nativism. At the heart of the paradigm
of victimization was a vision of history as a series of inevitabilities. History
was seen as essentially governed by forces that escape us, following a
linear cycle in which t­ here are no accidents, one that is always the same,
spasmodic, infinitely repeating itself in a pattern of conspiracy. The con-
spiracy is carried out by an external ­enemy that remains more or less hid-
den and that gains strength from private complicities. Such a conspiratorial
reading of history was presented as the radical discourse of emancipation
and autonomy, the foundation for a so-­called politics of Africanity. But
­behind the neurosis of victimization lurks in real­ity a negative and circular
way of thinking that relies on superstition to function. It creates its own
fables, which subsequently pass for real­ity. It makes masks that are con-
served and remodeled in dif­fer­ent epochs. So it is with the ­couple formed
by the executioner (­enemy) and his victim (the innocent). The ­enemy—­the
executioner—­incarnates the absolute form of cruelty. The victim, full of vir-
tue, is incapable of vio­lence, terror, or corruption. In this closed universe,
where “making history” becomes nothing more than flushing out one’s en-
emies or destroying them, any form of dissent is seen as extremism. ­There
exists a Black subject only within a violent strug­gle for power—­above

88  CHAPTER Three

all, the power to spill blood. The Black Man is a castrated subject, a pas-
sive instrument for the enjoyment of the Other, and becomes himself
only through the act of taking the power to spill blood from the colonizer
and using it himself. In the end, history moves within a vast economy of
As we have underscored, Black discourse consists in part in appropriat-
ing the ideology of cultural difference for one’s own purposes, in internal-
izing it and using it to one’s own benefit. The ideology leans on the three
crutches that are race, geography, and tradition. In fact, most po­liti­cal the-
ories of the nineteenth ­century established a tight link between the ­human
subject and the racial subject. To a large extent, they read the h­ uman sub-
ject first through the prism of race. Race itself was understood as a set of
vis­i­ble physiological properties with discernible moral characteristics. It
was thought that ­these properties and characteristics w ­ ere what distin-
guished ­human species from one another. Physiological properties and
moral characteristics made it pos­si­ble to classify races according to a hier-
archy whose violent effects w ­ ere both po­liti­cal and cultural.22 As we have
already noted, the dominant classification during the nineteenth ­century
excluded Blacks from the circle of humanity or at least assigned them an
inferior status in the hierarchy of races. It is this denial of humanity (or
inferior status) that forces such discourse to inscribe itself, from the be-
ginning, in a tautology: “We are also ­human beings.”23 Or better yet: “We
have a glorious past that proves our humanity.”24 That is also the reason
that, at its origins, the discourse on Black identity is infused with a ten-
sion from which it still has difficulty escaping: are Blacks part of a generic
humanity?25 Or, in the name of difference and singularity, do Blacks insist
on the possibility of diverse cultural forms within a single humanity—­
cultural forms whose vocation is not simply to reproduce themselves but
also to seek a final, universal destination?26
In this sense, the reaffirmation of a ­human identity denied by ­others is
part of a discourse of refutation and rehabilitation. But if the discourse of
rehabilitation seeks to confirm the cobelonging of Blacks to humanity in
general, it does not—­except in a few rare cases—­set aside the fiction of a
racial subject or of race in general.27 In fact, it embraces the fiction. This is
true as much of Negritude as of the vari­ous versions of Pan-­Africanism. In
fact, in t­ hese propositions—­all of them imbued with an ­imagined culture
and an i­magined politics—­race is the foundation not only of difference

Difference and Self-­Determination  89

in general but also of the very idea of nation and community, since racial
determinants are seen as the necessary moral basis for po­liti­cal solidarity.
Race serves as proof of (or sometimes justification for) the existence of
the nation. It defines the moral subject as well as the immanent fact of
consciousness. Within much of Black discourse, the fundamental founda-
tions of nineteenth-­century anthropology—­the prejudice of evolutionary
thinking and the belief in pro­gress—­remain intact. And the racialization
of the nation and the nationalization of race go hand in hand.
The latent tension that has always broadly s­ haped reflection on Black
identity dis­appears in the gap of race. The tension opposes a universalizing
approach, one that proclaims a cobelonging to the h­ uman condition, with
a particularizing approach that insists on difference and the dissimilar
by emphasizing not originality as such but the princi­ple of repetition
(custom) and the values of autonomy. In the history of Black thought dur-
ing the last two centuries, race has been the point of reconciliation be-
tween the two politico-­cultural approaches. The defense of the humanity
of Blacks almost always exists in tandem with claims about the specific
character of their race, traditions, customs, and history. All language is
deployed along this fault line, from which flow repre­sen­ta­tions of what is
“Black.” We rebel not against the idea that Blacks constitute a distinct race
but against the prejudice of inferiority attached to the race. The specific-
ity of so-­called African culture is not placed in doubt: what is proclaimed
is the relativity of cultures in general. In this context the “work for the
universal” consists in expanding the Western ratio of the contributions
brought by Black “values of civilization,” the “specific genius” of the Black
race, for which “emotion” in par­tic­ul­ar is considered the cornerstone. It is
what Senghor calls the “encounter of giving and receiving,” one of whose
results should be the mixing of cultures.28
The discourse of cultural difference was developed on the basis of ­these
common beliefs. In the nineteenth c­ entury, ­there emerged attempts to
­settle on a general denomination and locate a place in which to anchor the
prose of Black difference and the idea of African autonomy. Its geographic
locus was tropical Africa, a place of fictions if ever t­ here was one. The goal
was to abolish the fantastic anatomy of the place that Eu­ro­pe­ans had in­
ven­ted and that Hegel and o­ thers echoed.29 Somehow, the scattered limbs
of Africa ­were gathered up and reattached, its fragmented body recon-
structed in the imaginary zenith of race and in the radiance of myth.30 The

90  CHAPTER Three

proj­ect was to locate Africanness in a collection of specific cultural traits
that ethnographic research would furnish. Fi­nally, nationalist historiog-
raphy sought out what was lacking in ancient African empires—­even in
pharaonic Egypt.31 This approach, taken up by ideological currents linked
to progressivism and radicalism, consisted first in establishing a quasi-­
equivalence between race and geography, and then in creating a cultural
identity that flowed from the relationship between the two terms. Geog-
raphy became the ideal terrain in which the power of race and institutions
could take form.32 Pan-­Africanism effectively defined the native and the
citizen by identifying them as Black. Blacks became citizens ­because they
­were ­human beings endowed, like all ­others, with reason. But added to
this was the double fact of their color and the privilege of indigeneity. Ra-
cial authenticity and territoriality w ­ ere combined, and in such conditions
Africa became the land of the Blacks. As a result, every­thing that was not
Black had no place and consequently could not claim any sort of Africa-
nity. The spatial body, racial body, and civic body all became one. The spa-
tial body served as a witness to the common indigeneity by virtue of which
all of ­those born ­there or sharing the same color and the same ancestors
­were b­ rothers and s­ isters. The racial referent became the basis for civic kin-
ship. In the pro­cess of determining who was Black and who was not, ­there
was no way to imagine identity without racial consciousness. The Black
Man would henceforth no longer be someone who simply participated
in the h­ uman condition but the person who, born in Africa, lives in Africa
and is of the Black race. The idea of an Africanity that is not Black simply
became unthinkable. In this logic of identity assignation, non-­Blacks ­were
not from Africa (they ­were not natives) since they came from elsewhere
(they ­were settlers). As a result, it was impossible to conceive of Africans
of Eu­ro­pean origin.
But, ­because of the slave trade, it so happened that Blacks inhabited
faraway lands. How was their inscription in a racially defined nation to be
conceived when geography had separated them from their place of birth,
which was far from the place where they lived and worked? Some pro-
posed that the best way for them to consecrate their Africanity was purely
and simply to return to Africa. Since the African geographic space con-
stituted the natu­ral homeland for Blacks, t­hose who through slavery
­were taken far from the bosom of Africa lived in a condition of exile.33
To a large extent, the horizon of the ultimate return (the back-­to-­Africa

Difference and Self-­Determination  91

movement) infused the Pan-­Africanist movement. More fundamentally,
Pan-­Africanism developed within a racist paradigm that triumphed in
Eu­rope during the nineteenth ­century.34 It was a discourse of inversion,
drawing its fundamental categories from the myths that it claimed to op-
pose and reproducing their dichotomies: the racial difference between
Black and White, the cultural confrontation between the civilized and the
savage, the religious opposition between Christians and pagans, the con-
viction that race founded nation and vice versa. It inscribed itself within an
intellectual genealogy founded on the territorialization of identity on the one
hand and the racialization of geography on the other, or the myth of a racial
polis. And it forgot a key fact: that if exile was certainly the result of the
rapacity of capitalism, its origins also lay in a ­family murder. ­There ­were

Tradition, Memory, Creation

We have just shown that, b­ ehind a par­tic­u­lar rhe­toric of cultural differ-

ence, a certain kind of po­liti­cal work was in fact being done, one that made
choices within a form of memory that sought to order itself around the
double desire for sovereignty and autonomy. Paradoxically, such work
only reinforced the sense of resentment and the neurosis of victimization
among Blacks. How might one take up the interrogation of Black differ-
ence in a new way, as a gesture not of resentment and nostalgia but of
self-­determination? Was it pos­si­ble to take up this new line of question-
ing without critiquing memory and tradition, and with conscious effort to
determine what, within difference itself, offered possibilities for creation
and re-­creation?
That was the question posed in 1885 by Alexander Crummell and
framed in terms of a pos­si­ble politics of the f­ uture, of “the time to come.”
He had in mind a category that was at once po­liti­cal and existential. For
Crummell, the starting point for thinking about “the time to come” was
the recognition that one cannot live in the past. The past can serve as in-
spiration. One can learn from the past. But the moral concepts of duty and
responsibility, of obligation, flow directly from our understanding of the
­future. The time of the f­ uture is that of hope. The pres­ent is the time of duty.
Crummell reproached Blacks for modeling their be­hav­ior excessively on
that of the “­children of Israel.” “Long ­after the exodus from bondage, long

92  CHAPTER Three

a­ fter the destruction of Pha­raoh and his host, they kept turning back, in
memory and longings, ­after Egypt, when they should have kept both eye
and aspiration bent t­ oward the land of promise and of freedom.” He saw
this as a sign of “morbidity,” the development of an economy of memory
that turned “repulsive t­ hings” into residence, “to hang upon that which is
dark, direful, and saddening,” all of which led to degeneration. Such an
attachment signaled an appetite for death. Against memory deployed as
an irrepressible appetite for death, he opposed two kinds of capacities and
practices: hope and imagination. Crummell distinguished between the
memory of slavery and permanent reference to a history of misery and
degradation. The passage from slavery to liberty required not only a subtle
treatment of memory but also a reworking of dispositions and tastes. The
reconstruction of oneself at the end of slavery consequently involved a tre-
mendous amount of work on the self. The work consisted of inventing a
new interiority.36
Fabien Eboussi Boulaga suggests that we read difference anew, as a vigi-
lant form of memory, a critical model of identification, and a utopian proj­ect,
all at once.37 The assertion of Black difference in itself does not enable a
gesture of e­ ither innocence or self-­determination. It is a form of memory
rooted in a vanquished and humiliated difference, parts of which have suf-
fered an irredeemable loss and can never be recovered—­they can only ever
be evoked. The function of evocation can also be a function of deliverance,
on the condition that evocation never lose itself in nostalgia and melan-
cholia. Th­ ere are internal aspects to any form of difference that expose it to
violation and that “call for attack,” as Boulaga puts it. And ­there are ways of
summoning difference that seem like consent to subjection, just as t­ here
are forms of alienation in which one succumbs to constraint as well as se-
duction. Certain forms of difference carry within them the germs of their
own destruction, their finitude. They represent a negative paradigm of dif-
ference, one that opens the door to the forces of dehumanization. And
­there is no reason a priori to remain in blind attachment to them.
Examining “tradition,” Boulaga shows how the function of vigilance
makes it pos­si­ble to avoid repetition. “Vigilant memory seeks liberation
from the repetition of the alienation of slavery and colonization,” that is to
say, “the domestication of man, his reduction to the condition of an object,”
the stripping of his world to the point that he “renounces or destroys him-
self, a stranger to his land, language, body, an excess within existence and

Difference and Self-­Determination  93

history.”38 Other modalities of difference translate into e­ ither rejection
or the fetishization of the foreign, and in some cases even the ­retranslation
of every­thing new into old terms—­which serves only to deny or neutral-
ize. In other cases, negative difference takes form as the abandonment of
responsibility, the culpabilization of every­one but oneself, or the perma-
nent imputation that initial servitude was the result of external forces,
which means throwing away one’s own power. That said, Boulaga does not
reject difference in itself. For him, recognizing the existence of what is not
oneself, and what does not bring one back to oneself, goes hand in hand
with the gesture of separation from ­others and identification with oneself.
This moment of autonomy in relation to other ­humans is not, in princi­ple, a
negative moment. B ­ ecause of the vicissitudes of history, such a moment, if
experienced well, allows the Black Man to rediscover himself as an auton-
omous source of creation, to attest that he is ­human, to rediscover direc-
tion and a foundation for what he is and what he does. Positive difference
is also an opening onto the ­future. It points not to an apologia but to the
recognition of what each person, as a h­ uman, contributes to the work of
the constitution of the world. In any case the attempt to destroy difference
and the dream of imposing a single language on all are both doomed to
failure. Unity is always just another name for multiplicity, and positive
difference can only be a difference that is lively and interpenetrating. It is
fundamentally an orientation ­toward the f­ uture.39
What remains is the deconstruction of tradition itself, which often
serves as the counterpoint to the discourse of difference and reveals its
in­ven­ted character. In this view Africa as such—­and we should add the
Black Man—­exists only on the basis of a text that constructs it as the fic-
tion of the Other.40 The text subsequently acquires such structuring power
that the self, seeking to speak in its own au­then­tic voice, runs the risk of
speaking only in accordance with a preconstituted discourse that masks,
censures, or requires imitation. In other words, Africa exists only b­ ecause
of a colonial library that intervenes in and interferes with every­thing—­
including the discourse that seeks to refute the library—to the extent that,
in terms of identity, tradition, and authenticity, it is impossible, or at least
very difficult, to distinguish the original from the copy, from its simula-
crum. All one can do, therefore, is to problematize Black identity as an
identity in the pro­cess of becoming. From this perspective, the world no
longer constitutes a threat in itself but appears instead as a vast reservoir

94  CHAPTER Three

of affinities.41 No Black identity exists in the form of a book of Revelation.
­There exists instead an identity in the pro­cess of becoming, nourished
by the ethnic, geographic, and linguistic differences among Blacks and by
the traditions inherited through the encounter with what Édouard Glis-
sant calls the Tout-­Monde, the All-­World.

The Circulation of Worlds

Within the history of cultural practices, difference is constituted through

a ­triple pro­cess of entanglement, mobility, and circulation. Let us take as
an example the disciplines of Islam and Chris­tian­ity. As one of the oldest
containers for Black identity, at least in certain regions of the continent,
Islam long preceded the Atlantic trade and the colonial period. It con-
sisted of dif­fer­ent traditions or­ga­nized within brotherhoods in which the
religious elites reinterpreted and taught the Koran, seeking to translate its
protocols into a l­egal order that could be imposed on both believers and
nonbelievers. From this point of view, Islam functioned as a formal system
of governance, as a producer of subjects and a figure of sovereignty.
Despite their diversity, one ele­ment united the dif­fer­ent traditions: the
privilege that they accorded to faith in determining the relationship be-
tween identity, politics, and history. In many ways the authority carried by
­these traditions was a conquering identity that was sure of itself. The ways
of governing, believing, and trading ­were linked according to the princi­ple
of communicating vessels. And if ­there is something that separated Islam
from other religions in Africa, it was prob­ably the way in which the act
of piety responded, like an echo, to the act of war. In effect, in order to
impose itself, the Islamic faith used both power and a certain aesthetic of
vio­lence. So-­called holy wars and forced conversions w ­ ere legitimized and
authorized through invocations of the necessity of rectitude and salvation.
When forced conversion overtook voluntary adhesion, a master–­slave re-
lationship superimposed itself on the ties linking believer to nonbeliever.
With laws of religion defining the modes of belonging and exclusion,
the observance of religious precepts (how to live morally in the eyes of
God) became the condition of admission into an ­imagined nation whose
physical and symbolic borders encompassed a wide-­ranging community of
believers. Outside of the domain of believers, outside of its towns, c­ aravans,
merchants, and scholars, t­here existed nothing but impiety. Every­thing

Difference and Self-­Determination  95

situated outside the limits of the world of revelation (the dar al-­Islam, or
the empire of Islam) was destined to be raided and reduced to slavery. The
new lands sought out for Islam constituted the dar al-­harb, the land of war.
As Islam penetrated Africa, it carried this bellicose intent, along with the
appetite for luxury and brutality that was its corollary. Yet warring hardly
prevented Islam from offering the proposition of a fully ethical life to the
The second discipline is Chris­tian­ity. In the beginning the Judeo-­
Christian relationship with Africa was dominated by the motif of darkness,
of a primordial tragedy that consisted in masking what was true beneath
all kinds of superstition. In the Judeo-­Christian narrative Africa serves as
the meta­phor par excellence of the Fall. Inhabited by h­ umans chained in a
night of shadows, Africa lived away from God. This in fact was the essence
of paganism: disguise everywhere, distraction, the absence of discernment,
the refusal to look ­toward the light—in short, the corruption of what is.
But Judeo-­Chris­tian­ity replaced the bellicose relationship of Islam with
another form of vio­lence: that of mercy and pity. The proj­ect, in effect,
aimed to remove the chains, to separate the world of appearances and the
regime of falsehood from truth. It was a theology of foreshadowing: appear-
ances simulate presence, and it was this presence that had to be awakened.
Chris­tian­ity offered itself as a replacement for a life lived purely as an
object, stripped of all moral and aesthetic content, in a static and unchang-
ing world peopled with masks and fetishes and a multitude of profane
objects and brute h­ uman material. It offered the natives initiation into a
pro­cess of seizing the truth, a proj­ect of deliverance and healing, in short,
the promise of a new life. In the pro­cess Chris­tian­ity did not simply abol-
ish the world of allegory. Rather, it established a new relationship between
it and the world of the event. The event was the promise of being chosen
for salvation—­itself a collection of ideas that could be qualified as magico-­
poetic, given their bewitching power. Such was the case with the resur-
rection of the dead, a sublime dream driven by the desire for an absolute
time, the infinite horizon of the time and space of immortality. The price
of admission to promised salvation was the abandonment of a dissipated
existence in exchange for redemption. Conversion and the truth that it
revealed required, in turn, true work on oneself, the erasure of any distinct
and separate identity, the abolition of difference, and a pro­cess of rallying
to a humanity that was henceforth considered universal.

96  CHAPTER Three

We find the same proj­ect of universalization in colonization. It presented
itself, at least rhetorically, as the ­daughter of the Enlightenment and as such
proclaimed a form of governance that flowed from universal reason. Uni-
versal reason assumed the existence of subjects of the same name, whose
universality was founded on their humanity. The recognition of a common
humanity made it pos­si­ble to consider each individual as a juridical per-
son within civil society. It was pos­si­ble to speak of a universal subject only
­because a certain notion of rights in which all ­were considered identical,
and all had value, was generally recognized. Colonial discipline formalized
two mechanisms of social and po­liti­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion that w
­ ere justified by
the invocation of reason: the state and the market. The state appeared first in
its primitive form, that of “commandment,” before mutating into a system
for the civilization of habits. In its primitive form, the market was inscribed
in the native imaginary in its most abject form: the traffic in ­human beings.
As the appetite for merchandise intensified, only gradually did the mar-
ket transform itself into a vast machine for the production of desire. A ­ fter
World War II, colonial discipline offered the colonized a glimpse of three
other kinds of goods: citizenship, nation, and civil society. But it outlawed
their access to them u­ ntil its final phase. As with Islam and Chris­tian­ity,
colonization was a proj­ect of universalization. Its purpose was to inscribe
the colonized in the space of modernity. But its vulgarity, its often casual
brutality, and its bad faith all made it a perfect example of antiliberalism.
Con­temporary African identities w ­ ere not formed in relation to a past
experienced like a spell cast once and for all. Rather, they often depended
on a general capacity to bracket the past. This was the condition for being
open to both the pres­ent and life ­under way. A historical reading of the
local reappropriations of the three disciplines evoked above indicates as
much. Africans countered the Islamic proj­ect with what we might call a
response of creative assimilation. Cultures ­shaped by oral communication
relativized the hegemony of the book. The doctrinal core was reinterpreted
in a way that largely left open the question of what truly constituted an
Islamic society or government. From this openness—­which at the same
time was a refusal to foreclose on new encounters—­there emerged popu­
lar practices of observance of the faith and the law that gave ample space
to the arts of healing and divination, for example, or to the interpretation
of dreams—in sum, to the resources of mysticism and the g­ reat orphic
knowledge of local traditions.

Difference and Self-­Determination  97

Islamic Africa also produced scholars and reformers, most of whom
­ ere also warriors. ­Others w
w ­ ere ­great merchants involved in long-­distance
trade. Scribes, scholars, jurists, and interpreters of the Koran, along with
­simple slaves and griots, built the terrestrial community and reinterpreted
the inherited stories of the Prophet, their eyes fixed on merchandise.
Some heeded the call of luxury. Attentive to the details of the location and
the situation, and in bold commerce with the world, they rewrote Islam
itself and African identity, often in unexpected ways. Out of this pro­cess
emerged several va­ri­e­ties of Islam and a plurality of politico-­religious cul-
tures. At the heart of certain traditions, the state itself became just one
pos­si­ble variant of social or­ga­ni­za­tion, one that could not solely contain
the imaginary of the community. In ­others, po­liti­cal authority itself was
marked with suspicion. Did it not threaten to corrupt religion? From this
emerged the argument for “retreat” put forth by many scholars. Elsewhere,
an Islamic form of public life depended not on inherited status but on
spiritual submission to the sheikh (in the case of the Sufis). For o­ thers,
voluntary membership in a brotherhood became more impor­tant than
religious conscription.
In all of ­these cases, the diversity of doctrinal responses was expressed
as much from a theological point of view as through popu­lar faith prac-
tices. The three categories of rational judgment (the necessary, the impos-
sible, and the contingent) significantly softened the dogma of absolute
divinity. And a pedagogy based on memorization gave birth to a religious
and profane culture in which it was not necessary to master the Arabic lan-
guage, and where esoteric signs took on a weight equal to, or even greater
than, objective real­ity. Among all of the encounters between Africa and
the mono­the­istic religions, it is prob­ably with re­spect to Islam that the
meta­phor of the “marriage of the tree and language” evoked by Walter
Benjamin is most apt. Limbs grow and the peak gains in height, but the
branches conceal neither their form nor their inaccessibility. A gentle
breeze sways and scatters leaves, which curl inward to protect themselves,
while the trunk remains forever seated on the roots.
Many f­actors explain the diversity of responses to religion. The first is
linked to the capacity for extension and spatial dispersion, and therefore
to the negotiation of distance. In West Africa several channels connect the
Arabic/Berber and Black/African worlds. Brotherhoods disperse from
certain geographic poles in or­ga­nized migration and long-­distance trade.

98  CHAPTER Three

No ­matter how far they travel, mi­grants maintain tight links with their
places of departure. Something of the nature of an image attaches them
to their places of origin and compels them to return. Identity, then, is cre-
ated at the interface between the ritual of rootedness and the rhythm of
distancing, in a constant passage from the spatial to the temporal, from the
imaginary to the orphic.
The second ­factor has to do with a border practice that privileges itin-
erant identities and circulation. Historically, attachment to Africa—to the
territory, to its soil—­was always contextual. In some cases po­liti­cal enti-
ties ­were delimited not so much by borders in the classic sense but by an
imbrication of multiple spaces, constantly produced, unmade, and remade
as much through wars and conquests as by the movement of goods and
­people. Productive correspondences between p­ eople and ­things w ­ ere es-
tablished through the deployment of extremely complex scales of mea­
sure­ment. ­People could be converted into ­things, as was the case during
the slave trade. One might say that precolonial territoriality, by operating
through thrusts, detachments, and splits, was an itinerant territoriality, a
fact that ­shaped the constitution of identities.
In other cases the mastery of space depended on the control of ­human
beings. And in still ­others it depended on the control of localities. Some-
times it was a combination of the two. Th ­ ere could exist vast distances
between distinct po­liti­cal entities, true buffers without direct control, ex-
clusive domination, or close supervision. Occasionally, spatial dynamics
seeking to make the border a true physical and social limit went hand in
hand with the princi­ple of dispersion and the deterritorialization of alle-
giances. Strangers, slaves, and subjects could in effect rely on several dif­f er­ent
sovereignties at one time. The multiplicity of allegiances and jurisdictions
itself responded to the plurality of the forms of territoriality. The result
was often an extraordinary superposition of rights and an entanglement of
social links that ­were not based on kinship, religion, or castes understood
in isolation. Such rights and links combined with the signs of local belong-
ing. Yet they si­mul­ta­neously transcended them. Diverse centers of power
could exert control in a place that itself depended on another that was
close by, far away, or even imaginary.
Borders, ­whether of a state or not, acquired meaning only through their
relationships to other forms of difference and social, jurisdictional, and
cultural distinctions, or through the forms of contact and interpenetration at

Difference and Self-­Determination  99

work in a given space. They ­were not borders in the ­legal sense of the term
but rather the outlines of imbricated countries and spaces. They could be
expanded through conquest and acquisition. Borders w ­ ere often char-
acterized by their extensibility and incompleteness. It is therefore likely
that, in the past, the pro­cesses of identity formation w ­ ere ­shaped by the
same logic that governed the institution of borders and the social strug­
gles linked to their constitution. It was a logic of networks that operated
according to the princi­ple of entanglement. The institutions tasked with
negotiating the border ­were the same as ­those charged with negotiating
identities, regulating the caravan trade, cementing vertical and lateral al-
liances, and sometimes carry­ing out war. In fact, war, mobility, and com-
merce ­were combined in most cases, notably where war and commerce
went together with the propagation of Islam. ­There is indeed no trade that
does not have the capacity to create transversal alliances, to extend and
invest nodal points within a space that is constantly in motion. And war is
always a war of movement. True identity, in this context, is not necessarily
what fixes a location. It is what makes it pos­si­ble to negotiate the crossing
of spaces that are themselves in circulation b­ ecause they are of variable
Fi­nally, ­there was mimetic genius. From end to end, the cultural history
of Islam in Africa is marked less by critical exactitude than by an extraor-
dinary power of imitation and an unparalleled talent for producing resem-
blances on the basis of dif­fer­ent signs and languages. Many African Islamic
traditions resolve the prob­lem of the foreignness of Islam in complex ways.
Their religious identity is constructed by gathering together words that
signify dif­fer­ent t­ hings in dif­fer­ent languages and ordering them around a
central signifier that functions at once as image and mirage, parable and
allegory. B­ ecause it manages to weave onomatopoeic relationships between
writing and language, Islam constitutes the most perfect archive of resem-
blance in the history of identity formation in Africa.
Compared with the very old presence of Islam on the continent, the
pro­cess of osmosis between Chris­tian­ity and indigenous cultural forms
is a recent one. But African responses to the universalist Judeo-­Christian
proj­ect have been equally complex. African Christian theology followed
nativist discourse and, from the beginning, crystallized around the notion
that the encounter between Christian dogma and the indigenous uni-
verse of signification was one of loss and splitting that led to the erasure

100  CHAPTER Three

of identity.42 But recent anthropology and historiography have revealed
that the practices of the actors have been very dif­fer­ent. While theologians
of ­enculturation worried that conversion would involve the abolition of the
self, Chris­tian­ity in practice was turned upside down, undone, and then out-
fitted in masks and ancestral bric-­a-­brac, all without ever being stripped of its
core concept. It appeared to Blacks as, first of all, an im­mense field of signs
that, once decrypted, opened the way for an array of practices that moved
constantly away from orthodoxy.43 Africans used Chris­tian­ity as a mirror
through which to represent their own society and history to themselves.
To a large extent, this explains the apparent fa­cil­it­ y with which Chris­tian­
ity was domesticated and translated into local systems of intelligibility. It
offered itself to Africans as a form of allegory and aesthetics as well, becom-
ing the object of a g­ reat deal of work on forms and languages. Among ­these
was the language of the Spirit and its absolute power, which offers si­mul­ta­
neously an entry into utopia and a spectacle that repeatedly authorizes the
doubling of time and an upside-­down approach to the world and to ­things.
And we cannot underestimate Chris­tian­ity’s power of enchantment. Like
colonialism, it was received as a kind of magic: a combination of terror and
seduction that perfectly translated the categories of salvation and redemp-
tion. From this point of view, the desire for sovereignty so well condensed
in the idea of the resurrection of the dead played a crucial role in the recep-
tion of Chris­tian­ity among Blacks. The power of the meta­phor resided in
its tragico-­poetic depth, its dreamlike vio­lence, and its capacity to produce
symbols. On the one hand, it was a manifestation—in all its splendor and
misery—of the limits of the princi­ple of divinity itself: the history of a
God whose existence ends on a cross. On the other hand, ­there resides
within the dream a power to create enchantment in h­ uman life precisely
where it is most difficult to capture: it is the triumph of a man clothed
in the finery of divine sovereignty, a man whose omnipotence dis­appears
abruptly on the eve­ning of his death, at his exit from his tomb.
Most Pentecostalist movements in Africa use the power of enchant-
ment and symbol creation as a resource. Both allow believers to envision
their existence not in a purely po­liti­cal or instrumentalist way but rather as
a site for artistic gestures, an aesthetic proj­ect that opens up space as much
for action ­toward oneself and the world as for meditation and contempla-
tion. It is impossible to understand the con­temporary forms of African
identity without taking into consideration the heretical genius at the root

Difference and Self-­Determination  101

of the encounter between Africa and the world. From this heretical genius
flows the capacity of Africans to inhabit several worlds at once and situate
themselves si­mul­ta­neously on both sides of an image. This genius operates
by recruiting subjects into events, by splitting t­ hings, doubling them, and
by engaging in an excess of theatricality that, again and again, accompanies
the manifestations of life. Carried to extremes, heretical genius produces
situations of an extraordinary instability, volatility, and incertitude. ­People
tend to believe that Africa is falsified through contact with the exterior. But
how, then, should we understand the falsification to which Blacks them-
selves, in their effort to take in the world, have in fact subjected the world?

102  CHAPTER Three


This chapter diverges, in several ways, from the preoccupations that usu-
ally surround debates on memory, history, and forgetting. My concern is
not to specify the status of memory within historiography or within pro­
cesses of knowledge more generally, much less to untangle the relations
between collective memory and individual memory, or between living
memory and dead memory. The differences (but also the similarities)
between memory as a sociocultural phenomenon and history as episte-
mology are clearly complex, and the interferences between historical dis-
course and the discourse of memory are obvious. The goal ­here is rather to
say a few words about how we might think through the modes of inscrip-
tion of the colony within the Black text.
Defining the prob­lem pres­ents obvious difficulties. The Black forms of
mobilizing the memory of the colony vary depending on the period, the
stakes, and the context. As for the modes of repre­sen­ta­tion of the colonial
experience as such, they extend from active commemoration to forget-
ting, passing through nostalgia, fiction, repression, amnesia, and reappro-
priation as well as diverse forms of instrumentalization of the past in the
ser­vice of ongoing social strug­gles. Countering instrumentalist readings of
the colonial past, I w
­ ill stress that memory, like remembrance, nostalgia,
or forgetting, comprises first and foremost interlaced psychic images. It
is in this form that they appear in the symbolic and po­liti­cal fields, and
in the field of repre­sen­ta­tion. Their content consists of primary, original
experiences that took place in the past, to which one was not necessarily
a witness. The significance of memory, remembrance, and forgetting lies
less in truth than in the play of symbols and their circulation, in the gaps,
lies, difficulties of articulation, and many small failures and slips—in sum,
in the re­sis­tance to confession. Memory, remembrance, and forgetting are
power­ful systems of repre­sen­ta­tion and, strictly speaking, also symptom-
atic acts. They have meaning only in relation to a secret that in real­ity is
not a secret but that one nonetheless refuses to admit. They are thus the
products of psychic work and of a critique of time.
I am especially interested in ­those aspects of Black memory of the col-
ony that transform memory into a site of loss, on the one hand, and into
the place where debts are settled, on the other. In certain canonical Black
texts the colony appears foremost as a site of loss, which in turn makes it
pos­si­ble to demand that the ex-­colonizer pay a debt to the ex-­colonized.
This is connected to the very nature of the colonial potentate and the man-
ner in which it implements the two means of control that are terror (the
accursed share) and fantasia (its ­little secret). The fact remains, nonethe-
less, that to remember the colony is not simply to begin the pro­cess of psy-
chic work. It is also to undertake a critique of both time and the artifacts
that ultimately serve as substitutes for the substance of time itself (statues,
steles, monuments, effigies).

Histories of the Potentate

In African writings of the self, the colony appears as a primal scene. But it
occupies more than just the space of memory, functioning in the manner
of a mirror. The colony is also represented as one of the signifying ma-
trices of the language on past and pres­ent, identity and death. The colony
is the body that gives substance and weight to subjectivity, something one
not only remembers but continues to experience viscerally long ­after
its formal disappearance. Blacks bestow on the colony the attributes of a
founding power in possession of a psyche, that which doubles the living
body, “a copy that one substitutes for the body, that shares its same appear-
ance, manner of dress, gestures and voice,” while at the same time participat-
ing in a shadow whose essence is evanescence—­a fact that only adds to its
morphogenous power.1
Through lit­er­a­ture, ­music, religions, and cultural artifacts, Blacks have
therefore developed a phenomenology of the colony that in vari­ous ways
resembles what is referred to in psychoanalysis as “the experience of the
mirror.” It is not only the confrontation between the colonized and his

104  CHAPTER Four

mirror image that is acted out on this stage but also the relation of cap-
ture that bound his descendants to the terrifying image and demon of the
Other—to its totem, reflected in the mirror. More radically, in canoni-
cal Black texts the colony always appears as the scene where the self was
robbed of its content and replaced by a voice, one that, in the form of a
sign, always turns away, revokes, inhibits, suspends, and obstructs the ­will
for authenticity. For this reason, in African discourse, to remember the
colony is almost always to recall the primordial displacement between the
self and the subject.
One may generally deduce from the original diffraction that the au­then­
tic self has become another. An (alienated) foreign self has been substituted
for the real self, turning the Black into a carrier, despite himself, of secret
significations, of obscure intentions, of something uncanny that determines
his existence unbeknownst to him and that confers a nocturnal, even de-
monic character on certain aspects of his psychic and po­liti­cal life. The
West, subsequently, is allegedly entirely guilty of this internal fracture. The
pro­cess of healing, then, depends on putting an end to the psychic split. To
escape this (the colony as a figure of intrusion and discord) requires that
an original symbolic matrix (tradition)—­capable of preventing the divi-
sion of the Black body—be restored to the subject. The ex-­colonized w ­ ill
henceforth be able to be born into themselves, and into a world entirely
their own in all ways, and the madness to which the mirror leads ­will fi­
nally be conjured away. It is hardly surprising that such a central place has
been ascribed to the colony in the discourse on the formation of the Black
“self,” and that the colony has been accepted as an experience so crucial
to the advent of subjectivity. This relates, on the one hand, to the nature
of the colonial potentate and, on the other, to the manner in which the
potentate produced its subjects, and to the way they welcomed the power
that presided over their placement in the world.
In his time Frantz Fanon, who experienced all of this directly, demon-
strated that the colony was the result of a “continuous military conflict, re-
enforced by a civil and police administration.” In other words, the principal
matrix of the technique of domination that is colonialism is war, that maxi-
mal form of strug­gle to the death.2 We could add, paraphrasing Michel Fou-
cault, that strug­gle to the death in the colony is, at its most basic level, a
racial war.3 The civil administration and police attempted to transform this
original relationship of vio­lence, this first relationship of confrontation,

The ­Little Secret  105

into a permanent social relationship and an inescapable foundation for all
colonial institutions of power. That is why Fanon writes that vio­lence is
not just consubstantial with colonial oppression. In such a system estab-
lished through vio­lence, time itself is a “function of the maintenance of
vio­lence.” 4
This vio­lence has three dimensions. It is vio­lence in the “daily be­hav­ior”
of the colonizer ­toward the colonized; “vio­lence in regards to the past” of
the colonized, which is “emptied of all substance”; and vio­lence and insult
in relation to the f­ uture, “for the colonial regime offers itself as having to be
eternal.” But in real­ity colonial vio­lence is a network, “a node of encounter
between multiple, diverse, re-­iterated and cumulative forms of vio­lence,”
experienced as much on the level of the spirit as in “muscles, and blood.”5
For Fanon, the muscular dimension of colonial vio­lence is such that the
dreams of the native are profoundly affected. The muscular tension of the
colonized is liberated periodically ­either in sanguinary explosions (no-
tably in tribal conflicts) or in dance and possession. Moreover, practices
such as dance and possession constitute, in Fanon’s eyes, forms of relax-
ation for the colonized, which tend to take the form of a “muscular orgy
in which the most acute aggressivity and the most impelling vio­lence are
canalized, transformed, and conjured away.”6
Fanon went on to show that the colony had to be thought as a formation
of power endowed with a characteristic sensory life. In order to function,
this power structure depended on a phantasmagoric mechanism with-
out which each repetition of the founding colonial gesture was bound to
fail. Before him, Aimé Césaire stressed that colonization in princi­ple was
driven by two maleficent shadows: on one hand, what he designated as its
“appetite” or “cupidities” and, on the other, vio­lence (notably the fact of
killing, pillaging, brainwashing). To this he added “sadistic pleasures, the
nameless delights, that send voluptuous shivers and quivers through Loti’s
carcass when he focuses his field glasses on a good massacre of the An-
namese.” Césaire—­and ­later Fanon—­explained that this archaic gesture
(to kill, pillage, brainwash) constituted the accursed share of the colony and
originated in the princi­ple of sacrifice. The colonizer insists on “seeing the
other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal,
and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal.”7 In other words,
the deep roots of the colony must be sought in the unlimited experience of
death or in the expenditure of life. That experience, as we know, has been

106  CHAPTER Four

a major feature of Eu­ro­pean history, of its social operations of production
and accumulation, of its statism, its wars, and even its religious and artistic
production. But its most incandescent point was race, b­ ecause it was t­ here
that the desire for sacrifice manifested itself.8
Fanon stressed that life in the colony was constituted by impulses and
conflicts, by psychosomatic and ­mental disturbances—an agitated exis-
tence, a quasi-­permanent state of alarm. He also stressed that under­lying
the colonial potentate ­were two contradictory logics that, together, oper-
ated to annul the possibility for the emergence of an autonomous subject
within the colonial context. The first logic consisted in not accepting dif-
ference, and the second in refusing similarities. The colonial potentate was
thus a narcissistic potentate.9 By hoping that the colonized would imitate
it, while also prohibiting such imitation, the potentate transformed the
colony into the very figure of the “anticommunity,” a place where, para-
doxically, division and separation (what Fanon calls the “princi­ple of re-
ciprocal exclusivity”) constituted the very forms of being together and
where the principal form of communication between colonial subjects
and their masters (namely, vio­lence and profits) constantly reiterated the
sacrificial relation and ratified the generalized exchange of death.10 If t­ here
is a domain in which all of ­these paradoxes become evident, it is, accord-
ing to Fanon, in the relation between medicine (to heal) and colonialism
(to harm).11 The body that at times is locked up, “stripped down, chained,
forced to ­labor, beat, deported, and killed” is the same one that, elsewhere,
is “cared for, educated, dressed, nourished, and compensated.”12 In the
colony the subject that receives care is the same one that, elsewhere, is
the object of mutilation.13 It is as h­ uman waste, reject, and residue that the
subject appears at the site of therapy. Wretched and constantly exposed to
injury, he ­will previously have been totally disgraced, like a slave u­ nder the
plantation regime.14 Defined by indignity and vulnerability, filled h­ ere and
­there with pieces of an ill-­assorted and pathetic humanity, he responds
only to abjection and to the very forms of the misery to which he has been
As a result, instead of inspiring empathy, his suffering and his cries
arouse only more disgust. It is in this relationship between healing and in-
juring that the paradox of “commandment” appears in all its vio­lence. It is
a grotesque and brutal power that in theory brings together the attributes
of logic (reason), fantasy (the arbitrary), and cruelty.16 ­W hether in acts of

The ­Little Secret  107

destruction (for example, wars, torture, massacres, and even genocides),
in rage directed against the native, or in expressions of power directed
against the native-­as-­object within purely sexual or sadistic activities, the
lived impulses of commandment are inseparable from the ways in which
the colonial potentate perceives itself as a racial potentate, or in conflict
with “inferior races.”17 Regarding torture in par­tic­ul­ ar, Fanon says that it is
“not an accident, or an error, or a fault. Colonialism cannot be understood
without the possibility of torturing, of violating, or of massacring. Torture
is an expression and a means of the occupant-­occupied relationship.”18 It
starts with an action carried out in public: “a f­ ather taken into custody in
the street in the com­pany of his c­ hildren, stripped along with them, tor-
tured before their eyes.”19 It continues when the colonized finds himself
with the “electrode at his genitals” and soon takes shape at the very heart
of practices aimed at ­human health, t­hose that heal wounds and silence
pain—in the collusion between medical personnel, the police, and the mil-
itary.20 But one of the effects of torture is also to pervert ­those who are its
instruments. Such was notably the case with certain police torturers who
­were haunted by their victims and pushed to the edge of madness during
the Algerian war: “They hit their ­children hard, for they think they are still
with Algerians. They threaten their wives, for ‘I threaten and execute all day
long.’ They do not sleep, b­ ecause they hear the cries and the moans of their
The colonial potentate, then, reproduces itself in several ways. First,
it i­ nvents the colonized: “it is the settler who has brought the native into exis-
tence and who perpetuates his existence.”22 Then it crushes this i­ nessential
invention, making it sometimes a ­thing, sometimes an animal, sometimes
a ­human being in perpetual becoming. And, fi­nally, it constantly injures
the humanity of the subjected, multiplies the wounds on his body, and
assails his mind in the hope of leaving scars: “­Because it is a systematic ne-
gation of the other person and a furious determination to deny the other
person all attributes of humanity, colonialism forces the p­ eople it domi-
nates to ask themselves, constantly, the question: ‘In real­ity, who am I’?”
To grasp the magnitude of the m ­ ental pathologies produced by oppres-
sion, writes Fanon, one has only “to study” and be “alive to” the “number
and the depth of the injuries inflicted upon a native during a single day
spent amidst the colonial regime.”23 “To command,” moreover, requires
above all the capacity to silence the native. In vari­ous re­spects the colony is

108  CHAPTER Four

a place where the colonized are not permitted to speak for themselves. The
prohibition on speech is linked to the pro­cess that confines the colonized
to appearing naked: ­either as a castoff or residue or as something emptied
of content, whose life, bereft of any significance except that granted by
the master, is only worth something based on its ability to generate profit.
The body of the colonized becomes his tomb. Not only does command-
ment attempt to create prejudice in the name of civilization. It goes hand
in hand with the resolve to humiliate and injure the native, to make him
suffer, while at the same time taking satisfaction in his suffering and the
sense of pity and disgust that it ultimately generates. And if in the end one
must take his life, the native’s death must take place as close to the mud as
pos­si­ble.24 Henceforth a wandering shadow, he must go through his own
demise without crossing through it.
The colonial potentate also strives to create its own world out of the
debris of the one that it found when it arrived. It intends to arrange the
world that it has discovered according to its own logic. “In order to better
erase the vestiges of ­enemy domination, we previously took care to tear
up or burn all the written documents, administrative registers, au­then­tic
or other rec­ords, that could have perpetuated the traces of what was done
before us,” writes Alexis de Tocqueville on the subject of the French oc-
cupation of Algeria. “The conquest,” he continues, “was a new era, and out
of fear of mixing the past and the pres­ent in an irrational fashion, we even
destroyed a g­ reat many of the streets of Algiers, in order to rebuild them
according to our own method, and we gave French names to all t­ hose that
we consented to have remain.”25 The potentate wants to arrange the world
it has found according to a logic of its own liking. It puts a g­ reat deal of af-
fect and energy into the proj­ect. As it modifies agricultural systems, deals
with money and value, transforms housing patterns, dresses the colonized,
and cures the natives, transforming them into new “moral subjects,” com-
mandment is ashamed of its fantasies and barely conceals them.26 ­There
is thus something Dionysian about the act of colonization. It is a g­ rand,
narcissistic outpouring. The mix of voluptuousness, frenzy, cruelty, drunk-
enness, and dreaming that is one of the structural dimensions of the colonial
enterprise can be understood only in relation to that form of enchantment
that is both unrest and turmoil. The colonial world, a­ fter all, includes many
of the characteristics that Friedrich Nietz­sche recognized in Greek trag-
edy: “the phenomenon that pain arouses plea­sure, that exultation tears

The ­Little Secret  109

cries of agony from the breast,” while “out of the most extreme moment
of joy the scream of terror or the yearning lament for an irreplaceable loss
sounds forth.”27

The Enigmatic Mirror

Race is at the center of this tragedy. To a large extent, race is an iconic cur-
rency. It appears at the edges of a commerce—of the gaze. It is a currency
whose function is to convert what one sees (or what one chooses not to
see) into a specie or symbol at the heart of a generalized economy of signs
and images that one exchanges, circulates, attributes value to or not, and
that authorizes a series of judgments and practical attitudes. It can be
said of race that it is at once image, body, and enigmatic mirror within an
economy of shadows whose purpose is to make life itself a spectral real­
ity. Fanon understood this and showed how, alongside the structures of
coercion that presided over the arrangement of the colonial world, what
first constitutes race is a certain power of the gaze that accompanies a form
of voice and, ultimately, touch. If the gaze of the colonist “shrivels me” or
“freezes me,” if his voice “turns me into stone,” it is b­ ecause he believes that
my life does not have the same weight as his does.28 Describing what he
called the “lived experience of the Negro,” Fanon analyzes how a certain
manner of distributing the gaze ends up creating its object, fixing it, or
destroying it, or returns it to the world but u­ nder the sign of disfigura-
tion or at least of “another me,” a me that is an object, a marginal being. A
certain form of the gaze has, in effect, the power to block the appearance
of the “third-­being” and his inclusion in the sphere of the ­human: “I sim-
ply wanted to be a man among other men.”29 “And ­here I am an object in
the midst of other objects.” How, starting from the desire to be a ­human
being like o­ thers, does one arrive at the realization that we are what the
Other has made of us—­its object? “And then we were given the occasion
to confront the white man’s gaze. An usual weight descended on us. The
real world robbed us of our share,” he continues.30
The final recourse of colonial racism is to dispute the humanity of
this “triple person.” The strug­gle fixates first on the body. For Fanon, the
appearance of the third-­being within the field of racism happens first in
the form of a body. “All around the body reigns an atmosphere of certain
uncertainty.” Very quickly the body becomes a weight—­the weight of a

110  CHAPTER Four

“malediction,” which makes it into the simulacrum of the void and fragil-
ity. Even before it appeared, this body was already put on trial: “I thought I
was being asked to construct a physiological self,” but “the white man” had
“woven me out of a thousand details, anecdotes, and stories.” The body
from then on is an apparently formless form that incites surprise, dread,
and terror: “Look, a Negro! Mama, look, a Negro, I’m scared!” He exists
only through his inspection and assignation within a skein of significations
that are beyond him: “I was responsible not only for my body but also
for my race and my ancestors.”31 For the Black Man to be seen and for
him to be identified as such, a veil must have already been placed over his
face, making it a face “bereft of all humanity.”32 Without this veil ­there is
no Black Man. The Black Man is a shadow at the heart of a commerce of
the gaze. Such commerce has a gloomy dimension, almost funereal, for in
order to function it demands elision and blindness.
To see is not the same as to look. You can look without seeing. And it
is not clear that what one sees is in fact what is. But looking and seeing
have in common the fact that they solicit judgment, enclosing what is seen
or the person who is not seen in inextricable networks of meaning—­the
beams of history. In the colonial distribution of seeing, the desire for ­either
objectification or erasure, or an incestuous desire, a desire for possession
or rape, is always ­there.33 But the colonial gaze also serves as the very veil
that hides this truth. Power in the colony therefore consists fundamentally
in the power to see or not to see, to remain indifferent, to render invisible
what one wishes not to see. And if it is true that “the world is that which
we see,” then we can say that in the colony ­those who decide what is vis­i­ble
and what must remain invisible are sovereign.34
Race, then, exists only by way of “what we do not see.” Beyond “what
we do not see,” t­ here is no race. The pou(voir), or seeing power, of race is
expressed first in the fact that the persons we choose not to see or hear
cannot exist or speak for themselves. When necessary, they must be
­silenced. But their speech is always indecipherable, or at least inarticulate.
Someone e­ lse must speak in their name and in their place so that what
they say makes complete sense in our language. As Fanon, and before
him W. E. B. Du Bois, has shown, the person dispossessed of the faculty
to speak is constrained always to think of himself, if not as an “intruder,”
then at least as someone who can only ever appear in the social world as
a “prob­lem.”

The ­Little Secret  111

Race is also the expression of a desire for simplicity and transparence—­
the desire for a world without surprises, without drapery, without complex
shapes. It is the expression of re­sis­tance to multiplicity. It is, in the end, an
act of imagination as much as an act of misunderstanding. All of this is then
deployed in the calculation of power and domination to the extent that race
not only excites the passions but heats the blood and leads to monstrous
acts. But considering race as a ­simple “appearance” is not enough. Race is
not only a regulating fiction, nor merely a more or less coherent group of fal-
sifications and nontruths. The power of race derives precisely from the fact
that, in racist conscience, appearance is taken as the true real­ity of t­ hings. In
other words, appearance is not the opposite of real­ity. As Nietz­sche would
say, “appearance is real­ity.”35
Fi­nally, colonial racism also originates in what Fanon sometimes calls
“sexual anxiety” or “sexual inferiority.” He argues that if we want to un-
derstand psychoanalytically how the racial situation is experienced by
certain consciences, “considerable importance must be given to sexual
phenomena.” More specifically, the archaic origin of racism—­and its vac-
illating object negrophobia—is fear of the hallucinatory sexual power
attributed to the Black Man. For the majority of Whites, he affirms, the
Black Man represents the uneducated sexual instinct. “Isn’t the white man
who hates Blacks prompted by a feeling of impotence or sexual inferiority?
Since virility is taken to be the absolute ideal, doesn’t he have a feeling of
inadequacy in relation to the black man, who is viewed a penis symbol?
Isn’t lynching the black man sexual revenge?”36 This phenomenon is not
specifically colonial. The lynching of Black men in the U.S. South during
the time of slavery and a­ fter the Emancipation Proclamation (1862–1863)
was based in part on a desire to castrate them. Overcome by anxiety about
their own sexual potential, the racist poor Whites and the planters w ­ ere
seized with terror when they thought about the “black sword,” which they
feared not only for its supposed size but also for its penetrative and assail-
ing essence. In the obscene gesture of lynching, the goal was to protect
the supposed purity of the White ­woman by holding the Black Man up
to the level of his death. He was meant to contemplate the obscuring and
extinction of what, in the racist fantasy, was seen as his “sublime sun,” his
phallus. The rending of his masculinity was achieved by transforming his
virile attributes into a field of ruins—­their separation from the powers of

112  CHAPTER Four

life. All this occurs b­ ecause, as Fanon puts it, the Black Man does not exist
in this configuration. Or, rather, the Black Man is above all only a member.
For Fanon, granting the Black Man a sexual power that he does not
have is the expression of a double logic: the logic of neurosis and that of
perversity, such as in a sadomasochistic act. In real­ity, the specular hallu-
cination revolving around the Black phallus manifests the incest prob­lem
that inhabits all racist consciousness. It is also the manifestation of nostal-
gia for “extraordinary times of sexual licentiousness, orgies, unpunished
rapes, and unrepressed incest.” Projecting his fantasies onto the Black
Man, the racist acts as if the Black Man whose imago he has constructed
actually exists. The alienation begins in earnest once the Black Man, in
response, reproduces this imago, not only as if it w ­ ere true, but as if he
himself ­were its author. But racism aims symbolically above all for castra-
tion, or the annihilation of the penis, the symbol of virility. “But the black
man is attacked in his corporeality,” Fanon points out. The paradox of the
gesture is that “no longer do we see the black man, we see a penis; the black
man has been occulted. . . . He is a penis.”37

The Erotics of Merchandise

In parallel with this accursed share, whose origins are located in terror, coloni-
zation pres­ents two other characteristics to which Fanon attends. The first
is the vio­lence of ignorance—­that “profound ignorance” that Tocqueville
had identified in 1837 in his “Letter on Algeria.” In it he mentions, naturally,
the ­ignorance of languages, of the “dif­fer­ent races” that inhabit the colony,
of the division of “tribes” and their customs, of the “country itself, its re-
sources, its rivers, its towns, its climate.” The French, he writes, “­didn’t know
what the military aristocracy of the spahis was, and as for the marabouts, it
took them a long time to figure out, when they talked about them, ­people
­were referring to a tomb or a man.” He concludes, “The French d­ idn’t know
about any of ­these ­things and, in truth, they ­didn’t worry about learning
them.”38 The colony was instead conceived of as a battlefield. And on a
battlefield, victory goes to the strongest—­not to the most knowledgeable.
Second, Fanon characterizes colonization as a prodigious machine for
the production of desires and fantasies. It puts into circulation an ensem-
ble of material goods and symbolic resources that are all the more coveted

The ­Little Secret  113

by the colonized ­because they are rare, b­ ecause they have become objects
of desire and act as operators of differentiation (in terms of prestige, status,
hierarchy, or class). Corruption, terror, enchantment, and stupefaction all
constitute resources managed and administered by the potentate. The ad-
ministration of terror and the management of corruption work through a
certain modulation of the true and the false, through a certain rationing of
profits and bonuses, through the production of t­ hings that are sometimes
moving, sometimes captivating, and always spectacular and that the colo-
nized, ­because they are stupefied, have difficulty forgetting.39 From this
point of view, colonial domination requires an enormous investment in
affect and ceremony and a significant emotional expenditure that few have
analyzed ­until now.
This emotional economy must include every­thing that bears the mark of
life and death, abundance and plenitude—in short, wealth. The desire for
wealth insinuates its way into the body of the colonized and infuses ­every
corner of his psyche. “The land of the Kabyles is closed to us, but the spirit
of the Kabyles is open to us and it is not impossible for us to penetrate into
it,” Tocqueville observed in this regard. He reasoned that “the ­great passion
of the Kabyles is the love of material pleasures, and it is through this that we
can and must capture them.” He said of Arabs that personal ambition and
cupidity occupied a greater place in their hearts than among other groups.
In his eyes ­there ­were two ways of taming them. The colonized could flat-
ter their ambition and make use of their passions by turning them against
one another while keeping them in a dependent relation to colonial power
through the distribution of money and gifts. Alternatively, they could be
disgusted and exhausted through war.40 The potentate therefore attempts
to drive the native subject to renounce the choices and desires to which he
is attached, or at least to replace them with new idols, the law of new com-
modities, the price of new values, a new order of truth.
The potentate’s mechanism of fantasy pivots on the regulation of needs
and the flow of desire. The latter is determined by the fluxes of desire. Be-
tween the two is merchandise, notably the type of merchandise that the
colonized admire and seek to access. In both cases merchandise is sub-
jected to a ­triple use—­symbolic, psychic, and instrumental. In the colony
especially, it acquires the characteristics of an imaginary place. Merchan-
dise is the absolute essential core of ­every colonial operation, a dazzling
mirror on whose surface life, work, and the language of the colonized are

114  CHAPTER Four

reflected. Depending on the context, merchandise serves ­either a sedative
or an epileptic function. The potentate dazzles the colonized with the pos-
sibility of an unlimited abundance of objects and goods. The cornerstone
of the potentate’s fantasy mechanism is the idea that wealth and property,
and therefore desire, know no limit. The “­little secret of the colony,” the idea
of an imaginary without symbolism, explains the colonial potentate’s power
of enchantment. Moreover, the success of this “imaginary without the
symbolic” may be explained by the fact that it echoes and is anchored in
both history and the symbolic categories of the indigenous themselves.
We know, for instance, that, at the first moment of contact between
Eu­ro­pean merchants and Atlantic socie­ties, the power of Eu­ro­pean goods
to define and produce flows of desire was much more impor­tant—at
least in Africa—­than the idea of profit as such. The mystery that gener-
ally surrounds the value of objects was revealed in the ways in which Af-
ricans exchanged gold and ivory for apparently useless products, ­those
with very ­little real economic value. But once they ­were integrated into
local networks of meaning, once their ­bearers invested them with exten-
sive powers, cheap objects of pacotille apparently devoid of economic
value suddenly acquired a considerable social and symbolic—­and indeed
aesthetic—­value. We also know of the sense of won­der that Eu­ro­pean
weapons produced in Africa, of the fascination that Western technology
exercised on African minds (beginning with ships, masts, sails, portholes,
compasses, and maps), as well as of the terror produced by instruments
of surveillance. The material world and the world of objects that Africans
encountered w ­ ere considered vehicles of causality, in the way that ancient
­fetishes ­were. That t­ hese imported objects exerted such an influence on the
indigenous imaginary can be partly explained by the fact that the cult of
“fetishes” was, strictly speaking, a materialistic cult. Religious and sa-
cred objects, erotic and aesthetic objects, objects of commercial value, tech-
nical objects, and talismans—­all could find a place within the economy of
enchantment and charms. The existence of a cult of fetishes of a specifically
materialistic and ceremonial nature (amulets, necklaces, pendants, finery,
charms, ornaments) offered a cultural substrate on which a mercantile ide-
ology developed as a power over life (necromancy, the invocation of spirits,
witchcraft) and as a figure of abundance. In fact, many travelers of the period
affirmed that the religion of the fetish and the African social order depended
entirely on utilitarian princi­ples.41

The ­Little Secret  115

The same is true of the categories of excess and doubling, or of the
existence of monstrous figures and ambivalent creatures that assimilate
the fetishes and turn into terrifying masters of the forces of shadow and
night, capable of upending the world. Such is the case of chiefs who one
day drink beer from the skulls of their ancestors or enemies, and the next
are symbolically put to death as substitute ­human sacrifices. Freed from
their ties to the clan, they affirm their virility by sleeping with a ­sister, or
by marrying a g­ reat-­niece from their own matrilineal group, or by simply
transforming themselves into leopards. The ­great diversity of the categories
of spirits—­each corresponding to the logic of juxtaposition, permutation,
and multiplicity—­explains the fact that ­there is no limit to desire. “All
­these characteristics,” explains Luc de Heusch, “more or less developed
in each par­tic­u­lar case (royal incest, anthropophagy, the assimilation of
the king with a sorcerer, the prohibitions surrounding him, and fi­nally
regicide), must be brought together u­ nder the same symbolic structure.”
Taken together, they “define the formidable magic force which abolishes
the border between culture—­from which the chief is separated when he
is sacralised—­and nature, of which he becomes the sovereign master.” 42
This is also the case for t­hose enchanted objects that are invested with
dangerous power and that as a result operate on the same level as royalty’s
accursed share. Their secret is to take part in the “resurrection of ­things.”
Furthermore, an accursed share is constitutive of the history of the re-
lationship between African and Eu­ro­pean commodities, which took shape
during the period of the slave trade. As a result of the Atlantic trade, the
relationship of Africans to Eu­ro­pean goods was rapidly structured around
a triptych composed of the desire to consume, death, and genitalia. In vari­
ous re­spects the po­liti­cal economy of the slave trade was a fundamentally
libidinal economy. It had the particularity of possessing a center of grav-
ity, a driving force, which was partly a desire for consumption and partly
a desire for absolute and unconditional expenditure. In turn, this desire
maintained a close relationship with the procedures of sexual reproduc-
tion. Early on, it acquired the characteristics of a kind of corruption that
even the possibility of self-­destruction (the sale of close relatives and the
dissolution of social connections) was unable to limit. In fact, one can say
of this economy that it made self-­destruction and waste the ultimate signs
of productivity. African slave traders consumed Eu­ro­pean commodities in
exchange for the expenditure of their own p­ eople, and as a means by which

116  CHAPTER Four

to sublimate their own desire for death, which is a part of all power. Th­ ose in
power during the period maintained a relationship with commodities that
viewed the latter as sources of the erotic, not just as objects. In this context
enjoyment became the equivalent of absolute license, while every­thing in-
carnated in a practice of transgression was considered a form of power. But
this form of practice also saw itself, at the same time, as a kind of aesthetic.
Domination, meanwhile, consisted less in the exploitation of the l­abor
of ­those who had been subjugated than in the transformation of the ­latter
into objects within a general economy of expenditure and sensation, which
­were both mediated by commodities. To consume was, as a result, the sym-
bol of a power that never renounced any of its desires, even if ­these led to
a collision with the ultimate master: death. H ­ uman beings, subjects of the
potentate or prisoners of war, could be converted into objects and com-
modities sold to the slavers. Their value was mea­sured against the value
of the commodities that the potentate obtained in return for the sale of
­human beings. The conversion of h­ uman beings into commodities could
even affect members of the potentate’s immediate or extended f­ amily. The
objects received in exchange ­were subsequently incorporated into a dou-
ble calculus: the calculus of domination (to the extent that the commerce
of slaves helped establish centers of po­liti­cal power) and the calculus of
sensual pleasures (smoking tobacco, seeing oneself in a mirror, drinking
rum and other kinds of alcohol, dressing oneself, copulating, and accumu-
lating ­women, ­children, and dependents). In African history ­there is, then,
a figure of the commodity that has as its main signifier the “­family member
who was sold or handed over to be killed” in return for goods. We should
understand the term “desire” as a description of this gap in the structure
of the subject.
The instinct for enjoyment to which African elites w ­ ere subjugated dur-
ing this period depended on a collection of symbolic repertoires deeply
rooted in the thought, be­hav­ior, and life of the socie­ties they dominated.
One of the fundamental pillars of the metaphysics of life was the commu-
nion ­between ­human beings, on one hand, and objects, nature, and invisible
forces on the other. Another pillar was the belief in the division of the world
between the vis­i­ble and the occult. The division granted supremacy to the
invisible world, the secret origin of all sovereignty. It turned ­human be-
ings into the puppets of forces beyond their comprehension. The absence
of individual autonomy was expressed through an economy of subordination

The ­Little Secret  117

whose forms varied endlessly. But subordination also existed in the form
of a debt owed in return for protection. During the time of the slave trade,
however, subordination existed first and foremost as subjection to the
pres­ent. In the majority of cases, time and value w ­ ere perceived as being
contained within, and exhausted in, the pres­ent moment. Nothing was
certain, and every­thing was pos­si­ble. And so risks w ­ ere taken with com-
modities just as much as with the body, power, and life. Time as well as
death was reduced to the terrifying game of chance.
On the one hand, then, t­here was a forced awareness of the volatility
and frivolity of money and fortune. On the other, t­ here was the perception
that time and value existed only in the pres­ent moment. From this followed
the subjugation of ­people to fetishes, as well as that of ­women to men, of
­children to parents, and, more significantly, of every­one to their ancestors
and therefore to the power of death over life. The latter was carried out as a
fusion that affected relationships to both objects and the f­ amily. All of this
(more so than ­people have tended to think) accounts for the form taken by
despotic African regimes across the period, along with the forms through
which social vio­lence was expressed—­tangibility, tactility, palpability. On
another level the relationship between goods for consumption and pres-
tige goods (including w ­ omen, c­ hildren, and even allies) was henceforth
manifested as the penetration of commodities into the core of the subject.
Relationships to ­people ­were reduced to a conglomeration of debts, as
was the case in the system of “ancestors.” Every­thing, including social vio­
lence, was structured according to the creditor–­debtor relationship.
To a large extent, colonization only reinforced ­these systems. The
subjugation of Africans u­ nder colonization was also largely mediated
through goods. The more goods and objects radiated in their rarity, the
more intense became the libidinal investment in them. But as had been
the case during the era of the slave trade, the desire for goods was spurred
on by death, or at least by the figure of servitude. Like the Atlantic trade,
colonization marked the entry of Africans into a new era characterized by
the frantic pursuit of desire and enjoyment—­a desire f­ ree from responsi-
bility, and the pursuit of enjoyment as a mentality.43 ­Here the raw material
of ­enjoyment was the plea­sure of the senses. The slave trade in par­tic­ul­ar
constituted a moment of extreme exuberance during which the equiva-
lence between objects and ­humans was almost total. Both ­were reduced to
the state of signs. The relation to objects was one of immediate consump-

118  CHAPTER Four

tion, of raw plea­sure. The colonized, like the slave driver before him, was
fascinated and captivated by the idol b­ ehind the mirror, by the specular
image that was fabric and loincloth, rum, guns and hardware, roads, mon-
uments, railroads, bridges, and hospitals.
To obtain new goods, however, the colonized had to put himself in a
position of complete servitude to the potentate. He had to inscribe him-
self in a relation of debt—­the debt of dependence on the master. He had
to commit himself to a pedagogy aimed at inculcating the vices of venality,
vanity, and cupidity. As both natu­ral instincts and deliberately cultivated
impulses, vanity, venality, and cupidity constituted the three privileged
expressions of servitude with regard to the master and the cult of the
potentate. The colonized thus set off on a long and winding path ­toward the
enjoyment of new possessions and the promise of citizenship, but the pos-
sibility of any real fulfillment of the newly born desires was constantly de-
ferred. For this reason ­there was always a neurotic and playful dimension
to the colony, one of chance, a radical ambivalence that recent criticism
has brought to the fore. Does not the colony produce in the colonized a
dreamworld that turns rapidly into a nightmare? The dialectic of the dream
that is always on the verge of becoming a nightmare is one of the driving
forces ­behind the potentate. But it is also its Achilles’ heel. In many ways
African nationalisms are the product of the conflict between dreams and
the frustration born of the impossibility of truly satisfying them.
If ­there is a secret to the colony, it is clearly this: the subjection of the
native by way of desire. In the colonial context it is subjection to desire that
ultimately draws the colonized “outside themselves,” deceived as they are
by the vain chimera of the image and of the spell. Allowing himself to be
pulled in, the colonized penetrates another being and subsequently ex-
periences their work, language, and life as pro­cesses of bewitchment and
disguise. It is ­because of this experience of bewitchment and “estrange-
ment” that the colonial encounter incited a proliferation of phantasms. It
awakened desires that both colonizers and colonized had to hide from
themselves and that ­were, precisely for this reason, repressed and bur-
ied in the unconscious. In the Black text, the memory of the colony
necessarily takes two forms. The first consists in inscribing the colony
within a my­thol­ogy of indebtedness by emphasizing what Africa lost
through the encounter. The debt itself has two dimensions. On the one
hand is the debt of procreation (development), and on the other, the

The ­Little Secret  119

debt of hospitality (­ immigration). In both instances the goal of the dis-
course of loss and debt is to incite guilt. The African world, born of the
colony, is a world of loss—­a loss occasioned by crime. The perpetrator of
the crime is not only guilty but also indebted to t­ hose whose natu­ral rights
­were v­ iolated.
In addition, the memory of the colony becomes a kind of psychic work
that seeks to cure. Let us accept that, generally speaking, the cure con-
sists in bringing into consciousness two types of secrets evoked by Sig-
mund Freud in The Uncanny: ­those of which one is aware and which one
attempts to hide, and t­ hose of which one is not aware b­ ecause they do not
appear directly in one’s consciousness.44 In the Black (con)text, t­ hese two
types of secrets are in real­ity but one. The African text refuses to confess
that the enigma of absence at the heart of desire is the principal cause
for the loss of the proper name. The enigma explains the “yawning gap”
(in Jacques Lacan’s terms) that is addressed in African lit­er­a­ture and that
announces and confirms the loss. ­Under such conditions an au­then­tic
form of healing consists in liberating oneself from the secret even as one
recognizes, once and for all, “the other within” and accepts the “detour
through alterity” as the foundation for a new understanding of the self.
Such knowledge is necessarily divided; it is a knowledge of the gap and its
repre­sen­ta­tion. That such a g­ reat psychic weight continues to be attributed
to the colony is, strictly speaking, due to a re­sis­tance to confession: a re­sis­
tance to confess the subjugation of Africans to desire, a re­sis­tance to con-
fess that they had allowed themselves to be had, a re­sis­tance to admit that
they had been seduced and fooled by the “­great threat of the machinery of
the imaginary” that was the commodity.45

Black Time

I have stressed that Blacks remember the colonial potentate as a founding

trauma, yet at the same time refuse to admit their unconscious investment
in the colony as a desire-­producing machine. This can be explained by fo-
cusing on the ways in which they offer a criticism of time. But what is time,
and what should we understand by it? Maurice Merleau-­Ponty describes
time as that which one inevitably encounters on the path to subjectivity.
He also says of time that it is the “most general characteristic of psychic
events.” 46 By this we must understand two t­hings: first, that t­here is an

120  CHAPTER Four

intimate relationship between time and subjectivity, made up of a series
of psychic events; and, second, that time and the subject communicate
from within, so that to analyze time is to gain access to the concrete and
intimate structure of subjectivity. What Merleau-­Ponty says about time
can easily be extended to memory and even remembrance, given that each
fundamentally constitutes a form of the presence of the past (and of its
traces, remains, and fragments) within consciousness, w ­ hether such con-
sciousness is rational or dreamlike and imaginative. The remarks that fol-
low therefore aim, first, to show how the literary archive provides a way of
explaining the reasons for the refusal to confess about which we spoke
earlier. Second, the goal is to identify the cognitive and expressive par­
ameters that have s­ haped the Black critique of time and, more generally,
the elaboration of memories of the colony and of the potentate.
Literary texts highlight how languages of remembrance among Blacks
depend to a large extent on the critique of time. Every­thing in the Black
novel seems to indicate that time is not a pro­cess that one can simply ­register
as what we might call a “succession of the pres­ent.” In other words, ­there
is no time in itself. Time is born out of the contingent, ambiguous, and
contradictory relationship that we maintain with ­things, with the  world,
or with the body and its doubles. As Merleau-­Ponty notes, time (and we
can easily say as much about remembrance) is born in the gaze directed
­toward oneself and t­ oward the Other, the gaze that one casts on the world
and the invisible. It emerges out of a certain presence of all t­ hese realities
taken together. The African novel also clearly demonstrates that time al-
ways exists in relation to its doubles. To experience time is in part to know
no longer where one stands in relation to oneself. It is to experience the
self as “duplicated, divided, and interchanged.” 47 In the works of Amos Tu-
tuola, Sony Labou Tansi, Dambudzo Marechera, Yvonne Vera, and Yambo
Ouologuem, time is experienced by attending to the senses (seeing, hear-
ing, touching, feeling, tasting).
Memory and remembrance put into play a structure of organs, a ner­
vous system, an economy of emotions centered necessarily on the body
and every­thing that exceeds it. The novel also demonstrates how remem-
brance is activated through dance and ­music, or disguise, trance, and pos-
session.48 All forms of memory therefore find consistent expression in the
universe of the senses, imagination, and multiplicity. For this reason, in Af-
rican countries confronted with the tragedy of war, the memory of death

The ­Little Secret  121

is directly written on the injured or mutilated bodies of survivors, and
the remembrance of the event is based on the body and its disabilities. The
coupling of imagination and memory enriches our knowledge of both
the semantics and the pragmatics of remembrance.
But the critique of time as it is unfolds in con­temporary Black fiction also
teaches us that time is always unpredictable and provisional. It changes
endlessly, and its forms are always uncertain. It therefore always represents
a heterogeneous, irregular, and fragmented region of h­ uman experience.
The relation of the subject to time, then, is one that always aims to evade
the past and the f­uture, or at least to redeem and subsume them.49 This
does not mean, however, that t­ here is no distinction between before and
­after, or past and f­ uture. The pres­ent, as pres­ent, draws on both the sense
of the past and that of the f­ uture or, more radically, seeks to abolish both,
hence, in novelistic writing, the predominance of a time that might be
called paradoxical, since it is never fully anchored in the pres­ent, nor is it
ever completely cut off from the past or the f­ uture.50 It is a time of differ-
ential duration whose two laws are ­those of disjuncture and simultaneity
(co-­occurrence). The Black novel therefore always speaks of time and its
flow in the plural. Novelistic writing is preoccupied with describing the
pro­cesses of the transmutation of time, or the accumulation of time.51
Memory and remembrance, furthermore, acquire meaning only in
relation to the notion that time is in real­ity a sort of antechamber of the
real and of death.52 In the antechamber lie novel and unexpected t­ hings,
or—­more radically still—­“ hidden possibilities,” all sorts of creative and
destructive potentialities, an invisible and hidden world that constitutes
the true face of the real, without which t­ here can be no redemption of the
real.53 It is along this surface that the transition from the real to the phantas-
magoric, from inside to outside—­the conversion from one to another—­
takes place.54 In t­ hese conditions, to remember is above all to distribute
difference and produce a doubling precisely b­ ecause t­here always exists
an essential disjuncture between the dif­fer­ent units of time in their relation
to the event.55
And the event never simply takes place. One must be able to decipher
and express it—­hence the importance of divinatory practices.56 But how
can one express an “event” except, in a general sense, through an associa-
tion of words and images, with certain words clearly serving as empty
forms that one fills with images, and ­others existing solely to serve as

122  CHAPTER Four

vehicles for signs, to which they remain nevertheless irreducible? Re-
membrance exists only at the intersection between an event, words, signs,
and images. This encounter may lead to rituals. The quasi-­indissolubility of
words, signs, and images disallows not only the repre­sen­ta­tion of the event
but also, and more radically, its manifestation in the form of an epiphany.57
Within ­these pro­cesses of remembrance as practices of healing, images may
vary and substitute for one another. An extremely complex relationship is
established between meaning/signification and designation, or what I have
just termed “manifestation.” The subject who remembers, meanwhile, is in-
herently a contested subject as a result of the inaugural event: the apparent
loss of their proper name. Such a loss is all the more traumatic ­because it
is accompanied by the profound instability of knowledge, the destruction
of common meaning, and radical uncertainty with regard to the self, time,
the world, and language. This state of radical uncertainty constitutes the
objective structure of the event itself, but also of the story that one tells of
it, its narration. It makes any attempt to assign fixed identities impossible.
This partly explains the very close relation established in the Black novel
between the loss of the proper name (the destruction of moderation) and
the pro­cess of ­going mad, or of opening oneself up to a convulsive life, or
even suicide.58
To remember, in this context, means repeatedly overcoming the limits
of what can be expressed through language.59 Thus, writers use several si-
multaneous languages of time and the body. In the works of Tutuola, for
example, each body penetrates another and coexists with it, not always
completely, but at least in its essential parts.60 When one is asked who one
is, or what happened, remembrance takes the form of stuttering. The same
pro­cess takes place in relation to the memory of the postcolonial poten-
tate, that magnificent manifestation of time with no past or ­future tense,
or of a fallen past that one ceaselessly tries to revive but whose meaning
appears only as fracture and dissipation.61
Let us take, for example, the first chapter of Kossi Efoui’s novel La Polka.
As the novel opens, the narrator is seated, looking out on an empty street.
Before we know the name of the subject telling the story, his senses are
called up: in this case, sight. But what is seen? A pile of rubble, “sections of
walls fallen down, with doors and win­dows and their frames denuded by
fire.” B
­ ehind ­these objects is ruin: the time of ruin and of destruction. As a
result, time pres­ents itself first in its capacity to leave traces of a primordial

The ­Little Secret  123

event—­a destructive event for which fire is one of the major signifiers.
Time lives in the landscape. It can be seen ­there, read ­there. Before mem-
ory ­there is the view. To remember is literally to see the physical traces left
on the body of a place by the events of the past. But ­there is no body of a
place that is not on some level linked to a h­ uman body. Life itself has to
be “embodied” so it can be recognized as real. The novelist pays par­tic­u­lar
attention to the face and its traits, which he specifies have been redrawn
“by something that brutally forced its way into the gaze.” He takes care to
mention, together, the bodies and ­faces of w ­ omen, men, and animals, all
similarly rendered immobile by something whose irruption into life takes
the form of brutality. Distinctions between species and genders are there-
fore attenuated. From then on, they are linked in an apparent community
by resemblance. The face itself maintains a tight link with the mask: “Men
and animals shared the same face, the same mask of astonishment.”62
We said earlier that sight comes before the name. In fact, sight and
the name echo one another. The name revives sight and vice versa. One
­cannot exist without the other, and both lead to the voice, to gesture, and
fi­nally to life itself. So the time of ruin, according to the novelist, is when
“the gestures of life are no longer followed by the gaze.” It is when the body
stiffens and the timbre and rhythm of the voice become agitated. It quiv-
ers, or becomes gravelly. It may at other moments become “asthmatic.” It
becomes clear “soon enough that ­every word [emitted by the voice] is a
false escape,” since from then on the voice, cut in two, “goes nowhere.”
Speech no longer knows “how to catch up to or grasp the pres­ent mo-
ment.” Time can no longer be mastered. And so speech escapes “into a
see-­saw between before and ­after the return,” finding itself “outside life’s
words.” We could add that the event itself is the placement of time outside
of life’s words.63
One might say that La Polka is a novel that turns the body into the ulti-
mate site of memory. At times it seems as if the body belongs to no one in
par­tic­u­lar. It belongs to what we might call the numerous. So it is in the bar,
late at night, with t­ hose seeking anonymous debauchery in alcohol and pros-
titutes: “The girls come and go and turn about chummily asking: ‘Who’s
turn is it? How much for this ass?’ ” In the suffocating heat of bodies,
“­there are ­those who touch, . . . ​­those who pinch, . . . ​the sailors who slap
and ­those who content themselves with watching.” ­There is, above all, the

124  CHAPTER Four

body of the ­woman: “They know how to ration the energy of their bodies.
The smile first, then the bobbing of the bust. . . . ​And then it starts again
with the smile, a look lights up—­how much for this ass? As soon as he is
aroused, he looks down ­towards the thighs. The girl snuffs out her smile
and moves her legs around.” And, as if every­thing has to pass through it,
­there is generalized copulation.64
In La Polka the body is destined for disguise and finery, which is partly
what makes it shine: crowns of flowers, ­giant hats trimmed with ribbons,
decorations of all kinds—­rows of pearls around the naked necks of the
girls, golden bells around the ankles of the dancing musicians. But this cer-
emonial per­for­mance is never too far from the evocation of death. Above
the hearse whose ribs are made of braided palm ­there stands, “immobile,
a living corpse all dressed in white.” It is the mascot for a carnival. But
the multitude is always at risk of being reduced to a crush of bodies that
are “emaciated, stumbling, upon which no clothes can hang any longer.”
More seriously still, they risk expulsion from time, and from themselves:
“We spend the night fighting ­these organs scattered in our bodies: the
­exhausted stomach that leaves an emptiness where we w ­ ere once hungry
or thirsty, the tongue turning back into the throat, dangling arms, shoul-
ders that truly fall, and eyes in our backs. The mouth opens suddenly, stays
open, without shouting, awaiting a belch, a sudden uprising of viscera
or a brutal escape, bone a­ fter bone, along the entire frame of the body.
Bone ­after bone, the long ones, the short ones, the flat ones, t­hose that
falsely seem round and rough, a rosary of vertebrae rushing out of this
open mouth ­until the flabby skin sags and turns inside out and becomes
distended. A body suspended, falling, the warning signs of epilepsy.” In
La Polka the enormous trembling of the body is linked to death and dis-
appearance, or the sepulcher. The prob­lem, according to the novelist, is
that death does not necessarily produce remembrance. Moreover, “­these
seemingly dead ­people that we have, how could they serve to help us re-
member? With each disappearance, the memory of names shrinks, as if
all ­these lives w
­ ere classified affairs.” Henceforth, “the mask of astonish-
ment comes when every­thing shrinks and all that is left is the rumination
of a final image seeking its place between the before and the a­ fter.” It is
equally pos­si­ble that time is rebellious: it refuses to tire and sets out to
trap ­people.65

The ­Little Secret  125

Bodies, Statues, and Effigies

Statues, effigies, and colonial monuments clearly perform this function of

entrapment. Although diverse, they share three characteristics. In the first
instance, they are objects, strictly speaking, made from all sorts of mate-
rials: marble, granite, bronze, steel, and so forth. As objects, they constitute
inert blocks standing in place, apparently mute. Second, they are objects in
the form of a h­ uman body or an animal (for example, a h­ orse carry­ing a
conqueror). They represent the dead, who, in them, become finely crafted
­things. Third, the dead ­were all subjects at a given moment in their lives.
The statues that represent them attempt to preserve the quality of the
­subject. ­There can be no statue without a fusion of objectness, subjectivity,
and mortality. And t­ here are no colonial statues that do not refer us back
in time. Almost without exception, colonial statues and effigies testify to
this mute genealogy. At its heart lies the subject who outruns death, just
as death in turn outruns the object—­which itself is assumed to occupy si­
mul­ta­neously the place of the subject and the place of death.
Alongside statues exist other objects, monuments, and infrastructures:
train stations, the palaces of colonial governors, bridges, military camps,
and fortresses. In the French colonial empire, the majority of t­ hese w ­ ere
built in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This was a period in which
the aesthetic mission of art, despite the appearance of secularization, was
still conceived of in a religious mode. Art, it was thought, should heal the
West of its unhappy memories and new fears.66 It would, in its way, con-
tribute to a heroic narrative. To this end, it was to awaken dormant powers
while also renewing practices of cele­bration and the spectacle. In the col-
ony, cele­bration took a primitive turn. The public works and other kinds of
infrastructure (palaces, museums, bridges, monuments, e­ tc.) ­were not just
part of a collection of new fetishes. Tombs had to be desecrated so that they
could be built. Skulls of dead kings had to be brought out into the daylight,
their coffins dismantled. The corpse was stripped of all the objects that
adorned it (jewels, coins, chains, and so forth) before museums would ac-
cept the funerary objects taken from the tombs as part of their collections.
The function of the unearthing of the dead is to put the colonized into a
trance, to force them henceforth to celebrate a “sacrifice without gods or
ancestors.”67 In this context the symbolic economy of the colony becomes
a vast economy of gifts that cannot be reciprocated. The exchange that

126  CHAPTER Four

develops around public works and infrastructural proj­ects is one of sump-
tuary loss. Objects that cannot be returned (bridges, museums, palaces,
infrastructures) are ceded to the indigenous subjects by a cruel authority
during a savage festival that entangles body and ­matter.
­Those colonial statues and monuments that continue to occupy the
entrances of African public squares long a­ fter proclamations of in­de­pen­
dence have multiple meanings. But it is impor­tant to relate them to a style
of power and domination. The remains of the potentate are the signs of the
physical and symbolic strug­gle directed against the colonized. We know
that, to endure, a form of domination must not only inscribe itself on the
bodies of its subjects but also leave its imprint on the spaces that they in-
habit as indelible traces on the imaginary. Domination must envelop the
subjugated and maintain them in a more or less permanent state of trance,
intoxication, and convulsion so that they are incapable of thinking lucidly
for themselves. This is the only way that the potentate can lead them to
think, act, and behave as if they w ­ ere irrevocably caught in an unimagi-
nable spell. Subjection must also be inscribed into the routine of daily life
and the structures of the unconscious. The potentate must inhabit its sub-
jects in such a manner that the latter can no longer see, hear, smell, touch,
stir, speak, move, imagine, or even dream except in reference to the master
signifier that weighs over them, forcing them to stutter and falter.68
The colonial potentate scarcely deviated from this rule. In all phases
of daily life, the colonized was constrained to a series of rituals of sub-
mission, each more prosaic than the next. He might be commanded to
shake, cry, and ­tremble, to prostrate himself while shivering in the dirt, to
go from place to place singing, dancing, and living his subjection as if it
­were a providential necessity. Such was the case during the inauguration
of dif­fer­ent monuments, the unveiling of commemorative plaques, or the
anniversaries and other cele­brations shared by both colonizers and colo-
nized.69 All the moments of their lives had to be governed by a negative
consciousness that emptied them of ­free ­will (the negative awareness of
being nothing without one’s master, of owing every­thing to one’s master,
who at times is even thought of as a relative).70 In this context, then, colo-
nial statues and monuments did not serve primarily as aesthetic artifacts
destined for the embellishment of towns or the living environment. From
start to finish, they served as manifestations of the absolute arbitrariness
of colonial power, whose foundations ­were already vis­i­ble in the ways in

The ­Little Secret  127

which the wars of conquest and “pacification” w ­ ere carried out, and armed
uprisings quelled.71 They ­were expressions of the power of disguise, sculp-
tural extensions of a form of racial terror. At the same time, they ­were the
spectacular expression of the power of destruction and theft that animated
the entire colonial proj­ect.72
But, above all, ­there is no domination without a cult of spirits—in this
case, the dog-­spirit, pig-­spirit, the spirit of the riffraff that is so character-
istic of all imperialism, past and pres­ent. The cult of spirits always requires
a means of conjuring up the dead—­a necromancy and a geomancy. The
colonial statues and monuments clearly belong to the double universe of
necromancy and geomancy. They constitute in effect a caricatural exagger-
ation of that dog-­spirit, pig-­spirit, and riffraff spirit that animated colonial
racism and the power that shares its name—­and, moreover, every­thing
that came ­after in the time of the postcolony. Necromancy and geomancy
constitute the shadow or the pen that carved the postcolony’s profile into
a space (the African space) that was ceaselessly ­violated and spurned.
To see t­ hese ­faces of “death without resurrection,” it is easy to under-
stand what the colonial potentate was—­a typically funerary power that
tended to reify the death of the colonized and deny that their life had any
kind of value.73 In real­ity, the majority of the statues represent the ancient
dead of the wars of conquest, occupation, and “pacification”—­the lugubri-
ous dead, raised to the status of tutelary divinities by vain pagan beliefs.
The presence of the lugubrious dead in the public arena is meant to
ensure that both murder and cruelty, which the dead personify, continue to
haunt the memories of the ex-­colonized, to saturate their imaginary and
the spaces of their lives. The result is a strange failure of consciousness
that prevents them ipso facto from thinking clearly. The role of colonial
statues and monuments is to resurrect, in the pres­ent, t­ hose who during
their own lifetimes had threatened Blacks with the sword and with death.
The statues function as rituals that conjure dead men in whose eyes Black
humanity counted for nothing, which was reason enough for their lack of
scruples at spilling Black blood over a trifle.

128  CHAPTER Four


In the previous chapters we saw how, throughout the modern period, the
two notions of Africa and Blackness ­were mobilized in the pro­cess of the
fabrication of racial subjects. Their major signature was degradation, and
their role was to belong to a humanity pushed to the side, held in contempt
as the waste of mankind. Still, as mythic resources, Africa and Blackness
­were also meant to sustain an untenable limit—­both the shattering of
meaning and joyous hysteria.
Even at the zenith of the logic of race, t­hese two categories w ­ ere al-
ways marked by ambivalence—­the ambivalence of repulsion, of atrocious
charm and perverse enjoyment. In Africa and in all ­things Black, many saw
two blinding forces—at times only clay barely touched by sculpture, at
­others a fantastical animal, a metamorphic, heterogeneous, and menacing
figure, capable of exploding into shards. In this chapter we seek to evoke
this order, which was always in the pro­cess of ebullition, half solar and
half lunar, and of which the slave was the cornerstone. This chapter, then,
constitutes the foundation of the entire book, its ground zero. But to un-
derstand the status of the Black slave in the first era of capitalism, we must
return to the figure of the ghost. A plastic subject who suffered a pro­cess of
transformation through destruction, the Black Man is in effect the ghost of
modernity. It is by escaping the slave-­form, engaging in new investments,
and assuming the condition of the ghost that he managed to endow such
transformation by destruction with a significance for the ­future.
The phenomenon of the slave trade must, then, be analyzed as an
emblematic manifestation of the nocturnal face of capitalism and of the
negative ­labor of destruction, without which it has no proper name. Only
through a figural writing can we provide an account of the nocturnal face
and of the status of the ghost at the heart of its nocturnal economy. It is, in
truth, a maze of interlocking loops, constantly oscillating between the ver-
tiginous, dissolution, and scattering, and whose ridges and lines meet up
on the horizon. This scriptural style, the real­ity that it evokes, and the cat-
egories and concepts necessary for its elucidation can be found in three
works of fiction: Sony Labou Tansi’s Life and a Half and Amos Tutuola’s
The Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

Multiplicity and Surplus

The phenomenon of multiplicity and surplus is one of the central dimensions

of the nocturnal economy. What is called real at the heart of this economy
is by definition dispersed and elliptical, fleeting and on the move and es-
sentially ambiguous. The real is composed of several layers or sheets, sev-
eral envelopes. It is an uncomfortable t­ hing, one that can only be seized
in bits, provisionally, through a multiplicity of approaches. And even if
seized, it can never be reproduced or represented e­ ither fully or accurately.
In the end ­there is always a surplus of the real that only ­those endowed with
extra capacities can access.
On the other hand, the real rarely lends itself to precise mea­sure­ment
or exact calculation. Calculation is, on princi­ple, a game of probabilities. It
is, to a large extent, the calculation of chance. We add, subtract, multiply,
divide. But above all we evoke, convoke, draw every­thing along a fugitive
and elliptical line in zigzags, interpenetrating, sometimes curved, some-
times sharp, as a form of divination. The encounter with the real can only
ever be fragmentary and chopped up, ephemeral, made up of dissonance,
always provisional, always starting anew. And ­there is no real—­and there-
fore no life—­that is not at the same time a spectacle or theater, the product
of dramaturgy. The event par excellence is always floating. The image, or
the shadow, is not illusion but fact. Its content always exceeds its form. A
regime of exchange exists between the imaginary and the real—if such a
distinction even means anything. For, in the end, one serves to produce
the other. One is articulated to the other, can be converted into the other,
and vice versa.
The true core of the real is a kind of reserve, a surplus situated in an
elsewhere, a ­future. ­There is always an excess, the possibility of an ellipse

130  CHAPTER Five

and of separation, and it is ­these f­ actors that make it pos­si­ble to enter into
orphic states reached through dance or ­music, possession or ecstasy. The
truth is to be found in this reserve and surplus, in this oversaturation and
ellipse. But they can be accessed only through the deployment of a func-
tion of clairvoyance, which is not the same t­hing as the function of the
Clairvoyance consists in deciphering the glimmers of the real and inter-
preting them according to w ­ hether they take form on the surface of t­ hings
or beneath them, and ­whether they refer to their quantity or quality. All of
this can be explained only in relation to the fundamental mystery that life
ultimately represents. Life is a mystery ­because, in the end, it is made up of
knots. It is the result of a montage of ­things both secret and manifest, of an
ensemble of accidents that only death punctuates and perfects, in a gesture
at once of recapitulation and of appearance—or emergence. This explains
death’s foundational status. As an operation of recapitulation, it is not situ-
ated only at the end of life. At its core, the mystery of life is that of “death
in life,” of “life in death,” a braiding that is the very name for power, knowl-
edge, and force. The two bodies (the power of life and the power procured
from the knowledge of death) are not separate. One works the other, is
worked by the other, and the function of clairvoyance consists in mak-
ing such work reciprocal in the clarity of the day, with a lucidity of spirit.
­These are the conditions required for any confrontation with the threat of
the dissipation of life and the desiccation of the living. Life springs, then,
from the split, from the doubling and disjunction. Death does as well, in
its ineluctable clarity, which itself is also like the beginning of a world—­a
gushing emergence, a sudden appearance.
Faced with a real that is characterized by multiplicity and an almost
unlimited capacity for polymorphism, what is power? How can it be ac-
quired and conserved? What are its relationships to vio­lence and trickery?
Power is acquired and conserved owing to its capacity to create changing
relations with the half-­world of silhouettes, or with the world of doubles.
Power comes to ­those who can dance with the shadows, weave tight links
between their own vital strength and other chains of power always situated
in an elsewhere, an outside beyond the surface of the vis­i­ble. Power cannot
be enclosed within the limits of a single, stable form ­because, in its very na-
ture, it participates in the surplus. All power, on princi­ple, is power thanks
only to its capacity for metamorphosis: ­today a lion, tomorrow a buffalo

Requiem for the Slave  131

or warthog, and the day a­ fter tomorrow an elephant, panther, leopard, or
turtle. That said, the true masters of power, ­those who hold the truth, are
­those who can travel the path of shadows that calls to them, a path that one
must embrace and go down precisely with the goal of becoming another,
of multiplying, of being in constant movement. To have power is therefore
to know how to give and receive forms. But it is also to know how to escape
existing forms, how to change every­thing while remaining the same, to
marry new forms of life and constantly enter into new relationships with
destruction, loss, and death.
Power is also body and substance. First and foremost, it is a fetish-­
body and, as such, a medicine-­body. As a fetish-­body, it demands to be
venerated as well as fed. The body of power is a fetish only ­because it par-
ticipates in someone ­else’s body, preferably someone dead who was once
endowed with power and whose double it aspires to become. From this
point of view, it is a body-­corpse, at least on its nocturnal side. It is also a
body-­jewel, a body-­ornament, a body-­decoration. Relics, colors, concoc-
tions, and other “medicines” give it its power to seed (fragments of skin, a
piece of a skull or forearm, fingernails and locks of hair, precious fragments
of the bodies of old sovereigns or fierce enemies). Power is the pharmacy,
thanks to its capacity to transform the sources of death into a seeding
strength, or to convert the resources of death into the capacity for healing.
And it is ­because of its dual ability to be the force of life and the princi­
ple of death that power is at once revered and feared. But the relationship
between the princi­ples of life and death is fundamentally unstable. The
dispenser of fertility and abundance, power must be in full possession of
its virile strength.
This is one of the reasons why power resides at the center of a vast net-
work for the exchange of ­women and clients. But above all it must be ca-
pable of killing. Power is recognized as much by its capacity to engender as
by its equivalent capacity to transgress—­whether in the realm of symbolic
or in real practices of incest and rape, the ritual absorption of h­ uman flesh,
or the capacity to spend without limits. In certain cases the killing of a
­human victim by its own hand is the primary condition for any ritual of
regeneration. In order to sustain itself, power must be capable of breaking
a fundamental law, w ­ hether it is the law of the f­ amily or the law of all that
has to do with death and profanation, including the disposal of ­human
lives, even the lives of kin. ­There is therefore no power that is ­free of an ac-

132  CHAPTER Five

cursed share, that is not part scoundrel or part pig. Power is that which is
made pos­si­ble by splitting, that which is paid for in ­human lives, ­whether
­those of the e­ nemy or, if necessary—as is often the case—­that of a ­brother
or parent.
In ­these conditions effective action consists in creating montages
and combinations, of advancing masked, always ready to begin again, to
­improvise, to install oneself in the provisional before seeking to cross
bound­aries, to do what one does not say and say what one does not do;
to say several t­ hings at once and marry the opposite; and, above all, to
proceed by metamorphosis. Metamorphosis is pos­si­ble only ­because the
­human person can only ever refer back to himself by relating to another
power, another self—­the capacity to escape oneself, to double, to become
a stranger to oneself. Power is being si­mul­ta­neously pres­ent in dif­fer­ent
worlds, ­under dif­fer­ent modalities. It is, in this sense, like life itself. And
power is what was able to escape death and return from among the dead.
For it is only in escaping death and returning from the dead that one ac-
quires the capacity to make oneself into the other side of the absolute.
­There is, therefore, in power as in life itself, a share that depends on the
ghost—­a spectral share.
The ­human figure is by definition plastic. The h­ uman subject par excel-
lence is the one who is capable of becoming another, someone other than
himself, a new person. It is the one who, constrained to loss, destruction,
even annihilation, gives birth to a new identity out of the event. What gives
the ­human subject its symbolic structure is the animal figure for which it
is, in several ways, the vague silhouette. The ­human figure carries within it
not only the structure of the animal but also its spirit.1 The nocturnal power
is that which knows, when necessary, how to take on an animal existence,
give shelter to an animal, preferably a carnivore. The complete form or fig-
ure is always the emblem of a paradox. The same is true of the body—­that
privileged instance of aberration. All bodies are fundamentally committed
to disorder and discord. The body is also, in itself, a power that willingly
wears a mask. Before it is domesticated, the face of nocturnal power must
be covered up, even disfigured, returned to its status as a kind of horror.
One has to be unable to recognize anything ­human, to see a petrified ob-
ject of death, but one that includes still pulsing organs of life. The face of
the mask doubles as the face of the flesh and transforms itself into a living,
figurative surface. That is the ultimate definition of the body—­a network

Requiem for the Slave  133

of images and heterogeneous reflections, a compact density, liquid, osse-
ous, shadowy, the concrete form of the disproportion and dislocation that
is always on the verge of exceeding the real.

The Rag-­Humans

The body, flesh, and meat all create an inseparable totality. The body is a
body only ­because it is potentially a kind of meat that can be eaten: “The
soldier stood stock-­still like a rod of khaki-­colored meat,” writes Sony
Labou Tansi. He describes a scene during which the meal and the sacri-
fice become one: “The Providential Guide withdrew the knife”—­which
he had just plunged into the throat of one of the “rag-­humans”—­and
turned back to the meat he is eating, “which he cut and ate with the same
bloody knife.”2 This constant movement—­between the body and blood
of the torture victim and the meat of the meal—is presented almost as a
­simple dinner party. The point is to spill blood, to open wounds and inflict
pain. ­Isn’t it necessary, a­ fter all, for power to “kill from time to time”?3 The
­enemy is brought naked in front of the Providential Guide: “You better tell
me, or I’ll devour you raw.” To eat him raw requires a systematic destruc-
tion of the body:
The Providential Guide got ­really angry now, slashing the rag-­father’s
upper body in all directions with his gold-­sparking saber. He tore
apart the thorax, then the shoulders, the neck, the head. Soon t­here
was nothing left but a crazy tuft of hair floating in the b­ itter emptiness.
The lopped off pieces formed a kind of termite nest on the ground. The
Providential Guide kicked it all over the place and then ripped the tuft
of hair from its invisible suspension. He tugged with all his strength,
first with one hand, then with two. The turf released, but carried by the
force of his own effort, the Providential Guide fell over backwards and
bashed his neck on the tiles.4
The body takes on a new shape through the destruction of its previous
shapes: “Several of his toes w
­ ere left in the torture chamber, saucy scraps
of flesh hung in place of lips, and he had two wide parentheses of dried
blood in place of ears. His eyes had vanished in his hugely swollen face,
leaving just two glints of black light from two large shadowy holes. One
wondered how a life could persist at the bottom of this ­human wreck that

134  CHAPTER Five

even ­human shape had fled. The ­others have stubborn lives.” The Provi-
dential Guide eats bloody meat to which oil, vinegar, and three doses of
local alcohol have carefully been added. He roars out his questions. His
privileged instruments are tableware. “The fork struck bone; the doctor
felt the pain turn on and off, turn on and off. The fork sunk deeper into his
ribs, registering that same wave of pain.”5
But what is a rag, if not what has been but no longer is, except in the
form of a degraded shape, damaged, unrecognizable, ruined, an entity that
has lost its authenticity, its integrity? The rag-­human is that which pres­ents
­human characteristics but is so disfigured that it is at once outside and
within the ­human. It is infrahuman. You recognize the rag from what is left
of its organs—­the throat, the blood, lungs, the stomach from the plexus to
the groin, intestines, eyes and eyelids. But the rag-­human still has a ­will.
­There is more than organs left within it. Speech remains, the last breath of
a pillaged humanity, which all the way to the doorway of death refuses to
be reduced to a pile of meat, to die a death it does not want: “I d­ on’t want
to die this death.”6
Having held on to speech, the rag is dissected: “The rag-­father was
quickly cut in half at the height of his navel.” A­ fter having been cut into
pieces, the body opens up its cavernous mysteries. The intestines appear.
Then the organ of speech, the mouth, is literally “mangled.” Th ­ ere is no
longer a body as such, as an intrinsic unity. ­There is just an “upper body”
and a “lower body.” But even cut in half, the torture victim continues to
refuse. He repeats, over and over, the same phrase: “I d­ on’t want to die
this death.”7
It requires energy to transform a body into meat. The autocrat must
wipe sweat off his brow and rest. Meting out death is tiring, even when it
is interrupted by vari­ous pleasures, like smoking a cigar. What enrages the
murderer is the obstinacy of the victim, who refuses to accept the death
offered to him, who wants, at any price, a dif­fer­ent death—­that which he
would have given himself. The victim refuses to grant to power the power
to give him the death of its choice, enraging the Guide: “He bit down hard
on his lower lip, his chest puffed up in a violent rage, causing his l­ ittle eyes
haphazardly tossed on his face to spin. A moment ­later he appeared calmer
and slowly walked around the upper body suspended in space and looked
with a twinge of sympathy at the blood-­black mud that covered the trunk
like tar.” Power can mete out death. But the victim must accept it. For to

Requiem for the Slave  135

die truly he has to accept not only the offer of death but the form that
death takes. He who offers death, in opposition to he who receives it, is
confronted with the limits of his own ­will. He has to experiment with
dif­fer­ent tools of death: guns, swords, poison (a “death by champagne”),
which is the equalization of death and plea­sure, moving from the world of
meat to the world of liquor—­death as a moment of drunkenness.8
The nocturnal world is dominated by antagonistic forces engaged in
unrelenting conflict. Against each power is opposed another capable of
undoing what the first has created. You can recognize power by its capacity
to introduce itself among its subjects, to “mount” them, take possession
of them, including of their body and above all of their “double.” It is this
taking of possession that makes of power a true force. The princi­ple of its
force is to dislodge the self from the one subjected, to take the place of that
self. Power acts as if it is the mistress of its body and its double. From this
point of view, force is shadow, above all the shadow of death domesticated
and subjected. Power is the spirit of death, the shadow of the dead. As the
spirit of the dead, it seeks to steal the heads of its subjects—­preferably in
such a way that they w ­ ill not know what is happening to them, that they
­w ill be oblivious to every­thing they see and hear, every­thing they say
and do.
A priori, ­there is no difference between the nocturnal w ­ ill to power and
the ­will of the dead. Nocturnal power owes its existence and its survival to
a series of transactions with the dead of which it makes itself the vessel and
which, in return, are transformed into vessels of its ­will. This ­will consists,
above all, in knowing who the ­enemy is. Its slogan is this: “You w ­ ill know
your ­enemy and vanquish your ­brother, parent, or rival by exciting against
them terrible evil powers.” Nocturnal power, to do this, must constantly
feed the spirits of the dead, who, as true wandering dogs, are not content
with just any bit of food but demand pieces of meat and bone. Nocturnal
power, then, is a force inhabited by the spirit of the dead. But it attempts
at the same time to make itself mistress to the spirit of the dead that pos-
sesses it and with which it enters into a pact.
The question of the pact with the dead, of the appropriation of a dead
person or ­else of the spirit of another world, is, to a large extent, the ques-
tion at the heart of the history of slavery, race, and capitalism. The world
of the slave trade is the world of the hunt, of capturing and gathering,
selling and buying. It is the world of raw extraction. Racial capitalism is

136  CHAPTER Five

the equivalent of a ­giant necropolis. It rests on the traffic of the dead and
­human bones. To evoke and summon death demands that we know how
to dispose of the remains or relics of the bodies of t­ hose who ­were killed
so that their spirits can be captured. The l­abor of nocturnal power is the
pro­cess by which the spirits and shadows of ­those who have been killed
are captured and subjected. For ­there is no nocturnal power that does not
subject the object and the spirit of the dead trapped within it to appro-
priation in due form. The object can be a piece of skull, the phalanx of a
pinky fin­ger, or a bone from the skeleton. But in a general sense the bones
of the dead must be combined with pieces of wood, bark, plants, stones,
and the remains of animals. The spirit of the dead has to invest this mix of
objects, in short, to live within ­these objects, in order to consummate the
pact and activate the invisible powers.

Of the Slave and the Ghost

Let us turn now to Amos Tutuola, to his The Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My
Life in the Bush of Ghosts, two primordial texts that deal with the figure of
the ghost and the theme of shadows, of the real and of the subject.9 We
can say that it is in the nature of the shadow or the reflection to link the
subject of the ­human person to its own image or double. The person who
has identified with their shadow and accepted their reflection enters into
a pro­cess of constant transformation. They proj­ect themselves along an
irreducible, fugitive line. The I unites itself to its image as if to a silhouette,
in a purely ambiguous relationship between the subject and the world of
reflections. Situated in the twilight of symbolic efficiency, the part that
is shadow constitutes the domain at the threshold of the vis­i­ble world.
Among the vari­ous properties that constitute what we have called the part
that is shadow, t­ here are two that deserve par­tic­ul­ar mention. The first is
the power—­which ­those-­who-­see-­the-­night dispose of—to summon, to
call back, to make vis­i­ble the spirit of the dead or their shadow. The second
is the power—­which the initiated subject disposes of—to escape oneself
and become a spectator to oneself, to the strug­gle that is life, including the
events that constitute one’s own death and funeral. The initiated subject
watches the spectacle of his own doubling, acquiring along the way the
capacity to separate from the self, and to objectivize even as he subjectiv-
izes. ­There is sharp awareness of the fact that the one seen beyond ­matter

Requiem for the Slave  137

and the curtain of the day is truly his own self—­but a self doubled by its
The autonomous power of the reflection depends on two t­ hings: first,
on the possibility that the reflection can escape the constraints that struc-
ture sensed real­ity. The reflection is a fleeting double, never immobile. It
cannot be touched. One can only touch oneself. This divorce between see-
ing and touching, this flirtation between what can be touched and what is
untouchable, this duality between that which reflects and that which is
reflected, forms the foundation for the autonomous power of the reflection,
an intangible but vis­i­ble entity—­the negative that is the hollow between
the I and its shadow. What remains is the explosion. Th ­ ere is, in effect, no
reflection without a certain way of playing light against shadow and vice
versa. Without this game t­ here can be neither appearance nor apparition.
To a large extent, it is the explosion that makes it pos­si­ble to open up the
rectangle of life. Once this rectangle is open, the initiated can fi­nally see,
as if upside down, the back of the world, the other face of life. They can,
fi­nally, go to meet the solar face of the shadow—­the true and final power.
The second property of the shadow is its power to horrify. Such power
is born of the worrisome real­ity that this entity, the reflection, constitutes ­a
real­ity that seems not to rest on firm ground. For what ground, what geogra-
phy, carries it? In her treatment of the mirror in Western tradition, Sabine
Melchior-­Bonnet offers this response: “The subject is at once h­ ere and
elsewhere, perceived in a troubling ubiquity and depth, at an uncertain
distance: we see in a mirror, or rather the image seems to appear ­behind
the material screen, so that the person looking at himself can ask ­whether
he is seeing the surface itself or through it.” “The reflection,” she adds, “creates,
beyond the mirror, the sensation of an immaterial back-­of-­the-­world, and in-
vites the eye to cross through appearances.”10 But, strictly speaking, to cross
through appearances is not only to surpass the gap between what can be
seen and what can be touched. It is also to risk an autonomy of the psyche
in relation to corporality, an expropriation of the body accompanied by
the worrying possibility of the emancipation of the fictive double that ac-
quires a life of its own along the way—­a life devoted to the gloomy work of
the shadow: magic, dreams, divination, desire, envy, and the risk of mad-
ness that is part of any relationship with oneself. Th ­ ere is, fi­nally, the power
of fantasy and imagination. As we have just noted, the play of shadows
always depends on the constitution of a gap between the subject and its

138  CHAPTER Five

repre­sen­ta­tion, a space of theft and dissonance between the subject and its
fictive double, reflected by the shadow. The subject and its reflection can
be superimposed, but the duplication can never be smooth. Dissemblance
and duplicity are therefore an integral part of the essential qualities of noc-
turnal power and of the way it relates to life and the living.
Let us break the mirror on Tutuola’s writing. What do we see? The
spectacle of a world in motion, ever reborn, made up of fold upon fold,
of landscapes, figures, histories, colors, of an abundance of the visual, of
sounds and noises. A world of images, one could say. It is, above all, a
world inhabited by beings and t­ hings that pass for what they are not and
that, sometimes, are effectively taken for what they pretend to be even
though they are not. More than geographic space, the ghostly realm be-
longs ­si­mul­ta­neously to the orphic field and the visual field, to visions and
images, strange creatures, frenzied fantasies, and surprising masks forming
a permanent commerce with familiar signs that intersect, contradict, and
nullify one another, launch themselves again, and go astray within their
own bound­aries. Perhaps for this reason, the ghostly realm escapes synthe-
sis and geometry: “­There w ­ ere many images and our own too w ­ ere in the
centre of the hall. But our own images that we saw t­ here resembled us too
much and w ­ ere also white colour, but we ­were very surprised to meet our
images t­here. . . . ​So we asked from Faithful-­Mother what she was d­ oing
with all of the images. She replied that they ­were for remembrance and
to know ­those she was helping from their difficulties and punishments.”11
It is also a world that one experiences and creates, in instability, in eva-
nescence, in excess, in that inexhaustible depth that is generalized theat-
ralization. We penetrate into the ghostly realm through its border, across
the edges. The ghostly sphere is a stage where events unfold constantly
but never congeal to the point of becoming history. Life unfolds in the
manner of a spectacle where the past is in the ­future and the f­ uture is in
an undefined pres­ent. ­There is only life that is fractured and mutilated—­a
reign of heads without bodies, bodies without heads, dead soldiers awak-
ened once more, their decapitated heads replaced with ­those of ­others.
The vast operation of substitution is not without its dangers, especially
when the head of a ghost is mistakenly put in the place of someone ­else’s
head, one that “was always making vari­ous noises both day and night and
also smelling badly.” “­W hether I was talking or not it would be talking out
the words which I did not mean in my mind and was telling out all my

Requiem for the Slave  139

secret aims which I was planning in mind ­whether to escape from ­there to
another town or to start to find the way to my home town as usual.”12 Onto
the trunk of the body, which remains unchanging, is added someone ­else’s
organ, a talking prosthesis, but in a way that makes the body spiral about
in a void, so creating disorder and abolishing all notion of secrecy and
intimacy. The conjunction of one’s own body with someone ­else’s head
makes of the subject an emitter of speech over which he has no control.
Sent back across the edge, the self is projected at a moving horizon, the
core of a real­ity whose center is everywhere and nowhere, and where each
event engenders another. Events do not necessarily have recognizable ori-
gins. Some are pure memory-­screens. ­Others crop up unexpectedly with-
out apparent cause, or have a beginning but not necessarily an end. Still
­others are stopped, to be taken up again at a l­ ater time, in other places and
other circumstances, perhaps in dif­fer­ent guises or sequences or by dif­
fer­ent actors, in an indefinite declension of profiles and figures that are as
ungraspable as they are unrepresentable, and within complex designs ever
liable to modification.
Nocturnal power surrounds its prey from all sides, invests and encloses
it to the point of cracking and suffocating it. Its vio­lence is primarily of a
physico-­anatomical order: half bodies cut in all directions, made incomplete
through mutilation and the resulting absence of symmetry, maimed bodies,
lost pieces, scattered fragments, folds and wounds, totality abolished—in
short, a generalized dismemberment. Th ­ ere is another face of ghostly terror
that ensues from the ghost’s ugliness. The ghost’s body teems with a multi-
plicity of living species: bees, mosquitoes, snakes, centipedes, scorpions, and
flies. From it emanates a pestilential odor fed by never-­ending feces, urine,
blood—­the waste of the victims that ghostly power endlessly crushes.13
Ghostly terror also operates through capture, the most ordinary form of
which is physical capture. It consists simply in binding the subject hand and
foot and gagging him like a convict u­ ntil he is reduced to immobility. From
then on, he is para­lyzed and becomes a spectator of his own powerlessness.
Other forms of capture occur through the projection of a light whose starkness,
harshness, and brutality invests objects, erases them, re-­creates them, and
then plunges them into quasi-­hallucinatory drama:
So as he lighted the flood of golden light on my body and when I looked
at myself I thought that I became gold as it was shining on my body, so

140  CHAPTER Five

at this time I preferred most to go to him ­because of his golden light.
But as I moved forward a l­ittle bit to go to him then the copperish-­
ghost lighted the flood of his own copperish light on my body too . . . ​
and my body was then so bright that I was unable to touch it. And again
as I preferred this copperish light more than the golden-­light then I
started to go to him, but at this stage I was prevented again to go to
him by the silverfish-­light which shone onto my body at the moment
unexpectedly. This silverfish-­light was as bright as snow so that it trans-
parented ­every part of my body and it was this day I knew the number
of bones of my body. But immediately I started to count them ­these
three ghosts shone the three kinds of light on my body at the same time
in such a way that I could not move to and fro b­ ecause of t­ hese lights.
But as ­these three old ghosts shone their lights on me at the same time
so I began to move round as a wheel at this junction, as I appreciated
­these lights as the same.14
The light reflects its brilliance and its total power on the body that has
become, ­under the circumstances, luminous dust, porous and translucent
­matter. The fluidification of the body results in the suspension of its prehen-
sile and motor functions. Its component parts become legible. The light also
­causes new forms to emerge from the shadows. The startling combination
of colors and splendor institutes a dif­fer­ent order of real­ity, one that not
only transfigures the subject but plunges him into an infernal whirlwind.
He becomes a whirligig, the plaything of antagonistic powers that tear at
him ­until he cries out in horror. Still other forms of capture are tied to hyp-
notism and bewitching. Such is the case of the song that accompanies the
drum. ­There is a type of drum that resonates as if several are being beaten
at once. The same is true for certain voices and songs. Dancers are capable
of drawing in all who witness their prowess, even the spirits of the dead.
Drum, song, and dance are truly living beings. They have a seductive, even
irresistible, power. All three together produce a concatenation of sounds,
rhythms, and gestures that gives rise to a half-­world of specters and reveals
the return of the dead. Sounds, rhythms, and gestures can themselves be
infinitely multiplied according to the princi­ple of dissemination—­sounds
especially, owing to the unique ways in which they can be unleashed and
wrapped up within other sounds, one upon another, one into the other.
Their power to take flight links them to winged m ­ atter. Rhythms and

Requiem for the Slave  141

sounds have the power to arouse and indeed to revive, to raise up. The act
of rising up is then taken over by the rhythm, with which gesture itself is
associated. Rhythms and gestures appear equally in g­ reat numbers. Lives
are suddenly seized from the dungeon of death, from the grave, and are
healed, in an instant, by sound, rhythm, and dance. In the act of dancing, the
dead momentarily lose the memory of their chains. They discard their ha-
bitual gestures and liberate themselves from their bodies in order to erase
away figures that are barely sketched, thus prolonging the creation of the
world in a multiplicity of crisscrossing lines:
When “Drum” started to beat himself, all the p­ eople who had been dead
for hundreds of years, r­ ose up and came to witness “Drum” when beat-
ing; and when “Song” began to sing all domestic animals of that new
town, Bush animals with snakes, ­etc., came out to see “Song” person-
ally, but when “Dance” (that lady) started to dance the w ­ hole bush crea-
tures, spirits, mountain creatures and also all the river creatures came to
the town to see who was dancing. When ­these three fellows started at
the same time, the ­whole ­people that ­rose up from the grave, animals,
snakes, and spirits and other nameless creatures w ­ ere dancing together
with ­these three fellows and it was that day that I saw that snakes w ­ ere
dancing more than h­ uman-­beings or other creatures.15
All of the energy imprisoned in bodies, beneath the earth, in streams, on
mountains, in the animal and vegetable worlds, is suddenly liberated. And
none of ­these entities retains an identifiable equivalent or referent. In
fact, they are no longer referents to anything. They are nothing more than
their own inherent real­ity. The dead, the spur of dance, the whip of the
drum, and the ritual of resurrection dissolve into an ambivalence and gen-
eral d­ ispersion of all ­things imaginable as if they have been suddenly let
loose at random: a telluric sequence through which all that was buried has
been jolted out of sleep.
­There is also noise. Ghostly vio­lence consists equally in an art of mak-
ing noise. Such noise is almost always linked to specific operations of con-
trol and surveillance. One noise almost always calls forth another, which
in turn sets the crowd in motion. Too much noise can lead to deafness.
Ghostly vio­lence is also capricious by nature. But the caprice h­ ere is not
just an exercise in arbitrariness. It involves two distinct possibilities, the
first of which consists in laughing at the subject’s misfortune, and the sec-

142  CHAPTER Five

ond in overturning every­thing, associating ­every single ­thing with many
­others that do not necessarily resemble it. Caprice dissolves the identity of
each t­ hing within an infinity of identities not directly linked to the original.
Ghostly terror, from this perspective, is based on the negation of all essen-
tial singularity. This is how the master, in the presence of his hosts, seeks
to transform his captive into vari­ous kinds of creatures. First, he changes
him into a monkey. He climbs into fruit trees to pick fruit for them. Soon
afterward, he becomes a lion, then a ­horse, then a camel, then a bull with
horns. Then he reverts to his original form.16

Of Life and Work

In Tutuola’s universe the slave appears not as an entity made once and for
all but as a subject at work. Work itself is a permanent activity. Life unfolds
in constant flux. The subject of life is a subject at work. Several levels of
activity are mobilized in this work for life, one of which consists in trapping
­those who carry danger or death. Work for life consists in capturing death
and exchanging it for something ­else. Capture requires subterfuge. The ef-
fective actor is he who, unable to kill with the first blow, shows himself to
be cleverer than the other. Having prepared the trap, he must draw the
other in through intelligence and ruse. The goal each time is to immobi-
lize the other by enticing his body into a snare. Central to the work for life
is the body, that fact of being to which are attached properties, a number,
or a figure.
The body, as such, is not endowed with intrinsic meaning. Strictly
speaking, within the drama of life, the body itself signifies nothing in itself.
It is an interlacing, a bundle of pro­cesses that in and of themselves have no
immanent or primordial meaning. Vision, movement, sexuality, and touch
have no primordial meaning. ­There is an ele­ment of thingness in e­ very
form of corporeality. The work for life consists in sparing the body from
degenerating into absolute thingness, in preventing the body from becom-
ing a s­ imple object. Th
­ ere is only one mode of existence that makes this
pos­si­ble: an ambiguous mode of existence, a manner of groping along the
back of ­things and playing out the comedy before oneself and ­others. The
body, ­here, is an anatomical real­ity, an assemblage of organs, each with a
specific function. As such, it is not the basis of any kind of singularity that
would enable one to declare once and for all, absolutely: “I possess my

Requiem for the Slave  143

body.” True, it belongs to me. But this belonging is not absolute; I can, in
fact, hire out parts of my body to ­others.
The ability to dissociate oneself from one’s own body is therefore a
prerequisite for all work for life. Through this operation the subject can, if
necessary, protect his life from a burst of borrowing. He can feign his exis-
tence, get rid of the signs of servitude, participate in the masquerade of the
gods, or even, u­ nder the mask of the bull, abscond with virgins. Indeed,
he can dissociate himself from parts of his own body one moment and
then recover them once the exchange is completed. This does not mean
that parts of the body can be considered excess baggage and squandered. It
simply means that one does not need all of the parts of one’s own body at
the same time. The primary virtue of the body does not reside in the rays
of symbolism it sends out, or in its constitution as a privileged zone for
the expression of the senses. It resides in the potential of organs taken as a
­whole or separately, in the reversibility of its fragments, their mortgaging
and restitution for a price. More than symbolic ambivalence, then, it is in-
strumentalization that we must bear in mind. The body is alive to the extent
that its organs function and express themselves. It is the deployment of the
organs, their malleability and their more or less autonomous power, that
makes the body forever phantasmagoric. The meaning of the body, then,
is tightly linked to its functioning in the world and to the power of fantasy.
But the body must be able to move. The body is made first and fore-
most to move, to walk, which is why e­ very subject is a wandering subject.
The wandering subject goes from one place to another. The journey itself
need not have a precise destination: the wanderer can come and go as he
pleases. Destinations may be the predetermined stages of a journey, and
yet paths do not always lead to the desired destinations. What is impor­tant
is where one ends up, the road traveled to get ­there, the series of experi-
ences in which one is an actor and to which one is a witness, and, above all,
the role played by the unexpected and the unforeseen. We therefore need
to pay more attention to the path itself, to itineraries, than to destinations.
Hence the importance of the road.
The other ability required for the work for life is the ability to metamor-
phose. The subject can morph u­ nder any circumstances. This is notably
the case in situations of conflict and adversity. The ultimate act of metamor-
phosis consists in constantly escaping oneself, getting ahead of oneself, in
placing oneself ahead of ­others in an agonizing, centripetal movement that

144  CHAPTER Five

is all the more terrifying ­because the possibility of return is never guaran-
teed. When existence is tethered to very few t­ hings, identity lives its life
fleetingly, for one risks being killed by never getting ahead of oneself.
The time spent as a par­tic­ul­ ar being can only ever be provisional. One must be
ready to desert at any moment, to dissimulate, repeat, fissure, or recover, to
live within a form of existence where the whirlwind brings vertigo and cir-
cularity. ­There are also circumstances in life in which, despite an insatiable
desire to exist, the living being is condemned to assume the identity of a
dead person, rather than an individual or singular shape:
He was exceedingly glad as he discovered me as the dead body of his
­father, then he took me on his head and kept g­ oing to the town at once
with joy. . . . ​W hen he carried me and appeared in the town all his
town’s ghosts asked him what sort of heavy load he was carry­ing and
sweating as if he bathed in w ­ ater like this, so he replied that it was the
dead body of his f­ ather. . . . ​But when the town’s ghosts and ghostesses
heard so, they ­were shouting with joy and following him to his ­house.
Having reached his h­ ouse and when his ­family saw me . . . ​they thought
that it was true I was the dead body of their f­ ather, so they performed the
ceremony which is to be performed for deads at once. . . . ​Then they
told a ghost who is a carpenter among them to make a solid coffin.
Within an hour he brought it, but when I heard about the coffin it was
at that time I believed that they wanted to bury me alive, then I was try-
ing my best to tell them that I am not his dead f­ ather, but I was unable
to talk at all. . . . ​So ­after the carpenter brought the coffin, then they put
me inside it and also put more spiders inside it before they sealed it at
once. . . . ​­After that they dug a deep hole as a grave in the back yard and
buried me ­there as a dead man.17
The ­father thus dies without leaving ­behind an exact replica of himself.
The void created by the absence of the essential trace that is the cadaver
of the deceased is experienced as an im­mense breach in the real. For in
the trace of the cadaver is an essential component of the signifier that is
his death. Without the trace the dead person and his death are inscribed
in a fictional structure. For the real­ity of death gains its shadowy authority
from the cadaver. The absence of the trace opens up the possibility that
the living subject w­ ill stand witness to his own burial. To reach this stage,
he must be ripped from his own rhythm and captured in the imagination

Requiem for the Slave  145

of another. Protest as he might, ­there is nothing to be done. He is taken
for someone e­ lse, and, despite himself, he has to carry that person’s story,
notably its ending, even as he protests that he is unique. This inexorable
pro­cess continues to its conclusion in the tomb. The subject is truly t­ here,
for himself, in his own right. He is not perceived in any kind of ubiquity.
The dead person nevertheless hangs over him as a kind of material screen
that abolishes the identity of the victim who is being prepared for burial,
and melts it into an identity that is not his own. By a perverse genius, the
dead man is activated at the surface of a living being, in a form that is not
spectral but palpable. Even if opaque, it is truly material.
The dead person accedes to the status of the sign through the media-
tion of the body of another, in a theatrically tragic scene that forces each
of the protagonists into the unreality of an appearance that is endlessly
renewed, and into an emblematic mirroring and shimmering of identities.
From then on, the object (the cadaver) and its reflection (the living sub-
ject) are superimposed. The living subject insists in vain that he is not the
dead person, for he no longer possesses himself. Henceforth his signature
has become taking the place of. With its vertiginous speed and power of
abstraction, the impassable demon of death has taken possession of him.
The body of the dead person is not, strictly speaking, the same as the body
of the person who despite himself is being passed off as him. But the dis­
appeared henceforth finds himself in two places at once, even though he
is not the same in both places. The living being destined for the tomb be-
comes another while remaining the same. It is not that he is divided, nor
that the dead person that he must mimic possesses any of his essential at-
tributes. Every­thing is played out in the somnolence of appearances. To a
large degree, both the dead person and the living one have lost possession
of their own death and their own life. They are now joined in spite of them-
selves to spectral entities that transform both of them into primitive and
undifferentiated forms. Through a strange pro­cess of designation, the sig-
nifier is destroyed and consumed by the signified, and vice versa. Neither
can be extricated from the other.
­There is, fi­nally, the load that is borne—­here again, often against one’s
He begged us to help him carry his load which was on his front. . . . ​We
did not know what was inside the bag, but the bag was full, and he told

146  CHAPTER Five

us that we should not put the load down from head u­ ntil we should
reach the said town. Again he did not allow us to test the weight of it,
­whether it was heavier than we could carry. . . . ​I told my wife to put
the load on my head and she helped me. When I put it on my head
it was just like a dead body of the man, it was very heavy, but I could
carry it easily. . . . ​We did not know that the load was the dead body of
the Prince of the town that we entered. That man had mistakenly killed
him in the farm and was looking for somebody who would represent
him as the killer of the prince. . . . ​Early in the morning the king told the
attendants to wash and dress us with the finest clothes and put us on
a ­horse and they (attendants) must take us around the town for seven
days which meant to enjoy our last life in the world for that 7 days, ­after
that he (king) should kill us as we killed his son.18
The same relationship of intertwining between the dead and the living is
at work ­here, with the only difference being that the living person must
carry the remains of the dead even when he is by no means the murderer.
The fissure between death and responsibility is traced by the burden. The
­bearer of the burden must shoulder the form but not the m ­ atter of the
murderer. This all unfolds in a field of contrasts, where dif­fer­ent experi-
ences are linked not through chaos but through duration. Each experience
consists first of a conglomeration of heterogeneous ele­ments that can be
bound together only in a temporal form, although it itself is often shat-
tered. Life is henceforth but a series of instants and trajectories that are
almost parallel, with no overarching unity. ­There are constant jumps back
and forth from one experience to another, from one horizon to another.
The entire structure of existence is such that, in order to live, one most
constantly escape permanence, which is the b­ earer of precariousness and
vulnerability. Instability, interruption, and mobility, on the other hand,
offer possibilities for flight and escape.
But flight and escape are also ­bearers of danger:
When he was about to catch me or when his hand was touching my
head slightly to catch it, then I used the juju which I took from the hid-
den place that he kept it in before we left his h­ ouse. And at the same
moment that I used it, it changed me to a cow with horns on its head in-
stead of a ­horse, but I forgot before I used it that I would not be able to
change back to the earthly person again. . . . ​Of course as I had changed

Requiem for the Slave  147

to a cow I became more power­ful and started to run faster than him,
but still, he was chasing me fiercely ­until he became tired. And when
he was about to go back from me I met a lion who was hunting up and
down in the bush at that time for his prey as he was very hungry, and
without hesitation the lion was also chasing me to kill for his prey, but
when he chased me to a distance of about two miles I fell into the cow-­
men’s hands who caught me at once as one of their ­house which had
been lost from them for a long time, then the lion got back at once from
the fearful noise of t­ hese cow-­men. ­After that they put me among their
cows which ­were eating grass at that time. They thought I was one of
their last cows and put me among the cows as I was unable to change
myself to a person again.19
Three conclusions emerge. First, in the ghostly paradigm, time is n­ either
reversible or irreversible. ­There is only an unfolding of experience. ­Things
and events roll out on top of each other. If stories and events have a be-
ginning, they do not necessarily have a proper end. They can certainly be
interrupted. But a story or an event might continue on in another story or
event without ­there necessarily being a filiation between the two. Conflicts
and strug­gles might be resumed from the points at which they stopped.
But they can also be followed upstream, or begun again, without a sensed
need for continuity, even if the shadow of the old stories and events always
lurks ­behind the pres­ent. Indeed, the same event can have two distinct be-
ginnings. In the pro­cess, the life of the subject can pass from phases of loss
to phases of enrichment. Every­thing functions according to a princi­ple of
incompletion. As a result, t­ here is no ordered continuity between the pres­
ent, the past, and the ­future. And ­there is no genealogy—­only an unfurling
of temporal series that are practically disjointed, linked by a multiplicity of
slender threads.
Second, to act as a subject within a context haunted by ghostly terror
means having the capacity in all circumstances to “rearrange fragments
continually in new and dif­fer­ent patterns or configurations.” In the ghostly
realm ­there can only be schizophrenic subjects. Gilles Deleuze and Félix
Guattari write,
It might be said that the schizophrenic passes from one code to another,
that he deliberately scrambles all the codes, by quickly shifting from one
to another, according to the questions asked of him, never giving the

148  CHAPTER Five

same explanation from one day to the next, never invoking the same
genealogy, never recording the same event in the same way. When he
is more or less forced into it and is not in a touchy mood, he may even
accept the banal Oedipal code, so long as he can stuff it full of all the
disjunctions that his code was designed to help eliminate.20
­ nder conditions where, according to the Nietz­schean expression, “every­
thing divides, but in itself, and where ­every being is everywhere, on all
sides, at all levels, except in terms of intensity,” the only way to survive is
by living in zigzags.
Third, as a ghostly subject, the slave has neither a unique form nor a
content that has been definitively s­ haped. Form and content change con-
stantly, in relation to life’s events. But the deployment of existence can
occur only if the subject draws from a reservoir of memories and images
that seem to have been fixed once and for all. He leans on them even as he
transgresses them, forgets them, places them in dependence on something
other than themselves. As a result, the work for life consists in distanc-
ing oneself time and time again from memory and tradition at the very
­moment that one depends on them to negotiate the twists and turns of
life. With life’s contours barely sketched out, the wandering subject must
constantly escape from himself and allow himself to be carried away by the
flux of time and accidents. He produces himself in the unknown, by means
of a chain of effects that is at times calculated but that never materializes
exactly in the ways foreseen. It is within the unexpected, and within radical
instability, that he creates and invents himself.
Perhaps this is why, in the ­middle of the night, the subject can allow
himself to give in to the song of remembrance. Quite often the song is bur-
ied ­under the rubble of sorrow and thus unable to infuse existence with a
sense of ecstasy and eternity. But set ­free by tobacco, it can suddenly shat-
ter every­thing that limited the subject’s horizon, projecting him into the
infinite sea of light that makes it pos­si­ble to forget misery:
­ fter that he put a kind of smoking pipe which was about six feet long
into my mouth. This smoking pipe could contain half a ton of tobacco
at a time, then he chose one ghost to be loading this pipe with tobacco
whenever it discharged fire. When he lit the pipe with fire then the ­whole
of the ghosts and ghostesses ­were dancing round me set by set. They
­were singing, clapping hands, ringing bells and their ancestral drummers

Requiem for the Slave  149

­ ere beating the drums in such a way that all the dancers ­were jumping
up with gladness. But whenever the smoke of the pipe was rushing out
from my mouth . . . ​then all of them would laugh at me so that a person
2 miles away would hear them clearly, and whenever the tobacco inside
the pipe is near to finishing the ghost who was chosen to be loading
it would load it again with fresh tobacco. . . . ​­After some hours that I
was smoking this pipe I was intoxicated by the gas of the tobacco as if
I drank much hard drink. . . . ​So at this time I forgot all my sorrow and
started to sing the earth the songs which sorrow prevented me from
singing about since I entered this bush. But when all t­ hese ghosts w­ ere
hearing the song they ­were dancing from me to a distance of about five
thousand feet and then dancing back to me again as they ­were much
appreciating the song and also to hear my voice was curious to them.21

150  CHAPTER Five


Every­thing, then, starts with an act of identification: “I am Black.” The act

of identification is based on a question that we ask of ourselves: “Who,
then, am I?” Or e­ lse it is a response to a question asked of us, a summons:
“Who are you?” In both cases identity is unveiled and made public. But
to unveil one’s identity is also to recognize oneself. It is a form of self-­
recognition. It is to know who you are and to speak it or, better, to pro-
claim it—to say it to oneself. The act of identification is also an affirmation
of existence. “I am” signifies, from that moment forward, “I exist.”

The Master and His Black

But what, in the end, is a “Black”—­that beingness of which one claims to be

a species? “Black” is first of all a word—­a word that always refers us to some-
thing. But the word has its own weight, its own density. A word is meant to
evoke something in the conscience of the person to whom it is addressed
or in the person who hears it. The more dense and weighty, the more it pro-
vokes a sensation, a feeling, or even resentment in the person to whom it re-
fers. ­There are words that wound. The capacity of words to wound is a part
of their par­tic­ul­ ar weight. “Black” seeks above all to be a name. ­Every name
seems to carry a destiny, a more or less generalized condition. “Black” is the
name that was given to me by someone e­ lse. I did not choose it. I inherited
the name ­because of the position I occupy in the space of the world. ­Those
clothed in the name “Black” are well aware of its external provenance.
They are also well aware that they have no choice but to experience the
name’s power of falsification. From this point of view, a “Black” is the person
who cannot look the Other straight in the eye. To be Black is to be stuck
at the foot of a wall with no doors, thinking nonetheless that every­thing
­will open up in the end. The Black person knocks, begs, and knocks again,
waiting for someone to open a door that does not exist. Many end up get-
ting used to the situation. They start to recognize themselves in the destiny
attributed to them by the name. A name is meant to be carried. They take
something they did not originally create, and make it their own. Like the
word, the name exists only if it is heard and taken on by the p­ erson who
carries it. Or perhaps t­ here is a name only if the person feels the effect of
its weight on their conscience. Th ­ ere are some names carried as a perpet-
ual insult, o­ thers as a habit. The name “Black” is both. And though some
names can flatter, the name “Black” was from the beginning a mechanism
for objectification and degradation. It drew its strength from its capacity
to suffocate and strangle, to amputate and emasculate. The name was like
death. ­There has always been an intimate relationship between the name
“Black” and death, murder, being buried alive, along with the silence to
which the ­thing necessarily had to be reduced—­the order to be quiet and
remain unseen.
Black—we cannot forget—­aspires also to be a color. The color of ob-
scurity. In this view Black is what lives the night, what lives in the night,
whose life is turned into night. Night is its original envelope, the tissue out
of which its flesh is made. It is its coat of arms, its uniform. The journey
through night and this life as night renders Black invisible. The Other does
not see it ­because, in the end, ­there is nothing to see. Or, if he does see, he
sees only shadows and darkness—­almost nothing. Enveloped in a night
that was ­there before he was born, the Black Man cannot even see himself.
He does not see that if he strikes his body against a wall with no doors, if he
throws himself against it with all his strength and demands that the non­
ex­is­tent door be opened, sooner or ­later he ­will fall out onto the sidewalk.
As a thin film of being, he sees nothing. Indeed, b­ ecause of his color, his
sight can only be amniotic and mucosal. Such is the talismanic function
of color—­that which, surfacing at the end of sight, ultimately imposes it-
self as symptom and destiny, or as a knot in the conspiracy of power. The
color black, from this perspective, has atmospheric properties, the first of
which manifests itself in the form of an archaic reminder, a return to a ge-
nealogical inheritance that no one can truly alter b­ ecause the Black Man
cannot change his color. The second is an outside in which the Black

152  CHAPTER Six

Man is imprisoned and in which he becomes transformed into a forever-­
unrecognizable other. And if the Black Man is unveiled, t­ here is always a
price to be paid first: that of a veiling. The color black has no meaning. It
exists only in reference to the power that in­ven­ted it, to an infrastructure
that supports it and contrasts it with other colors, and, fi­nally, to a world
that makes it a name and an axiom.
The name “Black” is also a kind of link, a relationship to subjection. ­There
is, ultimately, only a “Black Man” in relation to a “master.” The ­“master” pos-
sesses his “Black Man.” And the “Black Man” belongs to the “master.” ­Every
Black person takes form according to the wishes of the master. The master
creates the Black Man, and the latter takes on form through the destruction
and explosion of what he was before. ­There is no “Black” as such outside
this dialectic of possession, belonging, and dynamiting. ­Every successful
act of subjection is based on a constant relationship of property, appro-
priation, and belonging to someone other than oneself. In this dialectic of
the Black Man and his master, the two most impor­tant signs of subjection
are the chain and the leash. The leash is that kind of rope attached to a
person who is not f­ ree. And the one who is not f­ ree is the same as the one
to whom you cannot extend a hand, and who therefore must be dragged
around by the neck. The leash is the ultimate signifier of slave identity, of
the slave condition, of the state of servitude. The experience of servitude
means being placed forcefully in the zone of undifferentiation between
­human and animal, in ­those zones where ­human life is seen from the pos-
ture of the animal—­human life taking on the shape of animal life to the
point that the two can no longer be distinguished, to the point where it is
no longer clear what part of the animal is more h­ uman than the h­ uman and
what part of man is more animal than the animal.
It is this disdained name that was taken up by Marcus Garvey and then
Aimé Césaire, among o­ thers, with the goal of turning it into the subject of
an essentially infinite conversation.

Race War and Self-­Determination

­ nder slavery, the plantation was the central cog in a savage order whose
racial vio­lence had three functions. First, it aimed to weaken the capacity
of the enslaved to assure their own social reproduction, in the sense that
they ­were never able to unite the means necessary to live a life worthy of

The Clinic of the Subject  153

the name. This brutality also had a somatic dimension. It aimed to immo-
bilize the body, and to break it if necessary. Fi­nally, it attacked the ner­vous
system and sought to dry up the capacities of its victims to create their
own symbolic world. With most of their energies diverted to the basic
tasks of survival, they ­were forced to live their lives only in the mode of
repetition. But what characterized the master–­slave relation above all was
the mono­poly the master believed he had on the f­ uture. To be Black and
therefore a slave was to have no ­future of one’s own. The ­future of the Black
Man was always a delegated f­ uture, received from the master as a gift, as
emancipation. That is why the question of the ­future was always at the
center of the strug­gles of the slaves, a ­future horizon to be reached on their
own, and thanks to which it would be pos­si­ble to constitute themselves as
­free subjects, responsible for themselves and responsible before the world.
For Garvey, defining oneself through lack was no longer enough. The
same was true of secondary or derivative forms of identification (or iden-
tification through the intermediary of the master). In the wake of the nega-
tive work of destruction, the Black Man had to become someone ­else, to
construct himself as a subject capable of projecting himself into the f­ uture
and investing in a desire. To give birth to a new h­ uman person and confer a
modicum of consistency on his existence, he had to produce himself not
as repetition but as indissoluble difference and absolute singularity. Out of
loss and destruction came the power of creation, a living substance capable
of giving birth to a new form in the world. Although sensitive to the idea of
need, Garvey was careful not to reduce desire to need. He sought, instead,
to redefine the very object of Black desire—­the desire to govern oneself.
Such desire was also a proj­ect, and he gave it a name: the African proj­ect
of “redemption.”1
To put the proj­ect of redemption into practice required a careful read-
ing of the time of the world. The world itself was inhabited by the h­ uman
species, composed of several races, each of which was called to remain pure.
Each race controlled its destiny in the context of a territory over which it
fully exercised the rights of sovereignty. Eu­rope belonged to Whites, Asia to
­those described as “Yellow,” and Africa to the Africans. Although d­ istinct,
each race was endowed with the same capacities and possibilities. None of
them was commanded by nature to exercise control over ­others. Since the
history of world was cyclical, all domination was temporary. At the begin-
ning of the 1920s, Garvey was convinced that a po­liti­cal readjustment of

154  CHAPTER Six

the world was ­under way. This readjustment was propelled by the rising
up of oppressed p­ eoples and dominated races who strug­gled against the
global powers and demanded re­spect and recognition. A race for life was
­under way. In this brutal and pitiless pro­cess, t­ here was no room for disor­
ga­nized ­peoples lacking ambition, incapable of protecting or defending
their own interests. If they did not or­ga­nize themselves, they ­were simply
threatened with extinction. The proj­ect of redemption also demanded a
theory of the event. For Garvey, the ultimate event was, essentially, called
to produce itself in the f­uture, at a time that no one could predict but
whose imminence was manifest. For Blacks, the awaited goal was the ar-
rival of the “African empire,” without which the Black race could not enjoy
po­liti­cal and economic existence in the world. The event was in the air, in
the wind. The politics of the sentinel consisted in accompanying, perhaps
precipitating, the arrival and preparing for it.2
Garvey, then, ­imagined a vast movement of desertion, or at least an or­ga­
nized retreat. He was convinced that the West was in inevitable decline. The
development of technology had, paradoxically, opened the way for a civiliza-
tion determined to destroy itself. With no spiritual foundation, it could not
last in­def­initely. In the conditions of the time, the Black Man was for Garvey
a largely deterritorialized subject. “I know no national boundary where the
Negro is concerned,” he affirmed. “The ­whole world is my province ­until
Africa is ­free.” In a geopo­liti­cal context deeply ­shaped by the contest be-
tween the races in pursuit of life, ­these deterritorialized subjects could not
guarantee their own protection, or even their survival as a distinct race lack-
ing a homeland. The Black Man could not become an au­then­tic h­ uman, that
is, a ­human like all o­ thers, capable of ­doing what all ­humans have the right
to do and exercising the kind of authority intrinsic to any ­human worthy
of the name over themselves, o­ thers, and nature. The f­ uture of any Black
person outside of Africa was nothing but ruin and disaster.3
Garvey’s Africa remained, on many levels, a mythical and abstract en-
tity, a full but also transparent signifier. This, paradoxically, was the source
of its strength. In the Garveyite text, to say “Africa” was to start down a
path in search of the substance of the sign—­a substance that preceded the
sign itself, and the form in which it had been called to manifest itself. The
history of humanity was a history of race wars. The h­ uman race was com-
posed of a race of masters and a race of slaves. Only the race of masters
was capable of making laws for itself and imposing t­ hose laws on o­ thers.

The Clinic of the Subject  155

Africa, in Garvey’s eyes, was the name of a promise—­the promise of a
reversal of history. The race of slaves could one day soon become a race of
masters again, if it simply gathered its own tools of power. For this distinct
possibility to be realized, the Blacks of the Amer­i­cas and the Ca­rib­bean
had to desert the inhospitable places to which they had been relegated and
return to their natu­ral habitat and occupy it once more. ­There, far from
­those who had once placed them in servitude, they would fi­nally recover
their own power and nurture their genius. By developing a Black African
nationality, they would avoid the hatred of ­others and the desire for ven-
geance, both of which would other­wise have consumed them.

The Rise of Humanity

Césaire strug­gled his entire life—­with force and incisiveness, with energy
and lucidity, between clarity and obscurity, using the miraculous weapon
of poetry along with the no less honorable weapon that is politics. At
times he fixed his eyes on the eternal. At other times he fixed them on the
ephemeral, on what passes and returns to dust. He sought obstinately to
cultivate a place of permanence from which the lie of the name could be
aired out and truth resuscitated, where the indestructible would be made
manifest. This is why his volcanic thought was si­mul­ta­neously one of inter-
ruption, uprising, and hope. The foundation for his thought on strug­gle and
insurrection was, on one hand, the affirmation of the irreducible plurality
of the world, or, as he liked to say, of “civilizations,” and, on the other, the
conviction that “­humans, no m ­ atter where they are, have rights as ­human
beings.” 4 His thought bore witness to the hope for a humane relationship
to difference, an unconditional relationship with humanity. For Césaire,
a new relationship was vital to confronting the face without a name and
the inexorable vio­lence that pushed us to denude it, to violate it and
silence its sound. His thought put racism and colonialism on trial. They
­were the modern forms of such violation and erasure, two figures of the
bestiality within man, of that ­union between the ­human and the beast that
our world is far from leaving b­ ehind. The terror that Césaire inhabited, fi­
nally, was one of a slumber from which t­ here was no awakening—­with no
sun and no tomorrow.
Césaire’s obsession went beyond the Antilles, ­those countries he habit-
ually called not “French” but “Ca­rib­bean.” It was not only France, whose

156  CHAPTER Six

revolution he considered a completely foundational event, even if one
that was incapable of dealing with the “colonial prob­lem,” or the possibil-
ity of a society without race. It was also Haiti (a land that “had allegedly
conquered its liberty” but that was more miserable than a colony). It was
Patrice Lumumba’s Congo and, through it, Africa (where in­de­pen­dence
had led to a “conflict among ourselves”). It was Black Amer­i­ca (he never
stopped recalling and proclaiming his “debt of recognition” to it). It was,
as he always repeated, the “fate of the Black Man in the modern world.”
How can we take seriously the concern he claimed for what he called
the “Black Man”? We must first avoid the temptation to neutralize the po-
lemical charge at its heart, and the unknown to which it points, and ac-
cept that it may all be quite disconcerting. We must embrace this concern
not to lock Césaire within a carceral conception of identity, nor to relegate
his thinking to a form of racial tribalism. Rather, we must embrace it to
prevent anyone from shying away from his difficult questions—­questions
that he never stopped asking and that remain t­ oday for the most part unan-
swered, beginning with questions of colonialism, race, and racism. Did he
not still say recently that “what confronts us is racism; the recrudescence
of racism throughout the world; the hearths of racism which, ­here and
­there, have been lit up once again. That is what confronts us. That is what
should preoccupy us. Is now ­really the time for us to lower our guard and
disarm ourselves?” What, then, does Césaire mean when he proclaimed
his concern for the fate of the “Black Man” in the modern world? What
does he mean by “Black Man”? Why not simply say “­human”?5
We should underline, first, that in making race the starting point of a
critique of politics, modernity, and the very idea of the universal, Césaire
inscribed himself in a long line of Black intellectual criticism that can be
found among African-­American as well as Anglophone Ca­rib­bean and Afri-
can thinkers. But in Césaire’s thought, concern for the Black Man does not
lead to secession from the world but rather to the affirmation of its plurality
and the necessity of making it thrive. To affirm that the world is plural,
and to militate for it to thrive, is to announce that Eu­rope is not the world
but only a part of it. It is to offer a counterweight to what Césaire calls
“Eu­ro­pean reductionism”—by which he means “that system of thought,
or rather instinctive tendency, on the part of an eminent and prestigious
civilization to take advantage of its prestige by creating a vacuum around
it that abusively reduces the notion of the universal to its own dimensions,

The Clinic of the Subject  157

that is to think the universal only on the basis of its own postulations and
through its own categories.” The result, he explains, is to “amputate man
from the h­ uman and isolate him, permanently, in a suicidal pride if not in
a rational and scientific form of barbarism.”6
To affirm that the world cannot be reduced to Eu­rope is to rehabilitate
singularity and difference. In that, and despite what some say, Césaire is
very close to Léopold Sédar Senghor. Both reject abstract visions of the
universal. They argue that the universal is always defined through the reg-
ister of singularity. In their eyes, the universal is precisely the site of a mul-
tiplicity of singularities, each of which is only what it is, or what links and
separates it from other singularities. For both Césaire and Senghor, ­there
is no absolute universal. The only universal is the community of singulari-
ties and differences, a sharing that is at once the creation of something
common and a form of separation. H ­ ere, the concern for the Black Man
makes sense only ­because it opens the way for a reimagining of the uni-
versal community. His critique is relevant ­today in an age of war without
end and the multiple returns of colonialism. Indeed, it is indispensible for
con­temporary conditions, ­whether in terms of citizenship, of the presence
of foreigners and minorities among us, of non-­European forms of ­human
becoming, of the conflict of mono­the­isms, or ­else of globalization itself.
On another level, Césaire’s critique of race was always inseparable
from the critique of colonialism and the thought that sustained it. In his
Discourse on Colonialism of 1950, Césaire asked: What is the princi­ple of
colonialism? It is “neither evangelization, nor a philanthropic enterprise,
nor a desire to push back the frontiers of ignorance, disease, and tyranny,
nor a proj­ect undertaken for the greater glory of God, nor an ­attempt to
extend the rule of law.” A dishonest equation, it is the ­daughter of appe-
tite, cupidity, and vio­lence—­lies, v­ iolated treaties, punitive expeditions,
poison instilled into Eu­rope’s veins, transforming ­people into savages, all
of the ways the colonizer decivilizes, dives into brainwashing, learns how
to awaken hidden instincts like covetousness, vio­lence, racial hatred, and
moral relativism. This is the reason that “no one colonizes innocently,
that no one colonizes with impunity; that a nation which colonizes, that a
civilization which justifies colonization—­and therefore force—is already
a sick civilization, a civilization which is morally d­ iseased, which irresist-
ibly, progressing from one consequence to another, one denial to another,
calls for its Hitler.” And, furthermore, “the colonizer, who in order to ease

158  CHAPTER Six

his conscience gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal,
accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to
transform himself into an animal.”7 To take Césaire seriously is to continue
to track, in ­today’s world, the signs that mark the return of colonialism,
or its reproduction and repetition in con­temporary practices—­whether
practices of war, forms of marginalization and stigmatization of differ-
ence, or, more directly, forms of revisionism that, basing themselves on
the failures of postcolonial regimes, try to justify retroactively what was
above all, as Tocqueville suggested, a rude, venal, and arbitrary form of
Fi­nally, it is impor­tant to continue to raise questions about the meaning
of the term “Nègre,” which Senghor and Césaire rehabilitated at the height
of imperial racism. It is significant that at the end of his life Césaire thought
it necessary to remind Françoise Vergès: “Black I am and Black I ­will stay.”8
He became aware of his Blackness at the beginning of the 1930s, when,
in Paris, he met Senghor and the African-­American writers Langston
Hughes, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Sterling Brown, and, ­later, Rich-
ard Wright, as well as many o­ thers. His realization was provoked by the
anxious and pressing self-­questioning that went on among a generation of
Black thinkers between the two world wars. It focused on the Black con-
dition, on the one hand, and on the possibilities of the era, on the other.
Césaire summarized such concerns in the following manner: “Who are we
in this white world? What can we hope for, and what should we do?” In
answer to the first question, he offered an unambiguous response: “We are
Black.” In affirming his “negritude” in such a decisive way, he also affirmed
a difference that was not to be simplified, not to be veiled, and from which
one should not turn away by claiming that it was inexpressible.9
But what did he mean by “Black” (“Nègre”), this return to the name
that Frantz Fanon, in Black Skin, White Masks, said was only a fiction? And
what should we understand by this word t­oday? For him, the name re-
ferred not to a biological real­ity or skin color but to “one of the histori-
cal forms of the condition imposed on h­ umans.” But the word was also
a synonym for “the stubborn strug­gle for liberty and indomitable hope.”
For Césaire, the term “Black” communicated something essential that had
nothing to do with the idolatry of race. ­Because it carried the experience
of so many ­trials (which Césaire was absolutely committed to never for-
getting) and ­because it constitutes the ultimate meta­phor of being “put to

The Clinic of the Subject  159

the side,” the name best expresses, a contrario, the quest for what he calls
a “greater fraternity” or “a humanism made to the mea­sure of the world.”10
That said, this humanism made to fit the world can be articulated only
in the language of what-­is-­to-­come, of that which w ­ ill always be ahead of
us and w­ ill therefore always be deprived of a name and of memory, but not
of reason. As such, it ­will always escape repetition ­because of its radical
difference. The universalism of the name “Black” depends not on rep-
etition but on the radical difference without which the dis-­enclosure of the
world is impossible. It is in the name of this radical difference that we must re­
imagine the Black Man as someone on the road, or ready to set out on the
road, who experiences being snatched away, being a stranger. But for this
experience of travel and exodus to have meaning, it must include Africa as
an ­essential component. It must bring us back to Africa, or at least take a
detour through Africa, the double of the world whose time we know ­will
Césaire knew that Africa’s time would come, that we had to look ahead
to it and prepare ourselves for it. He reinscribed Africa si­mul­ta­neously
onto the registers of neighborliness and extreme distance, of the presence
of the Other, thus preventing the possibility of home or residency from
being anything other than dreamlike. Yet this manner of inhabiting Africa
enabled him to resist the siren call of insularity. In the end it was perhaps
Africa that allowed him to understand the existence of a profound strength
within humanity that exceeded what is forbidden. And it was this knowl-
edge that lent his thinking its volcanic character.
But how can we reread Césaire without Fanon? The latter witnessed
colonial vio­lence, notably in Algeria, and sought to confront its traumatic
consequences through his own medical practice. This vio­lence manifested
itself in the form of everyday racism, but especially through the torture
used by the French army against Algerian re­sis­tance fighters.11 The country
for which he had nearly lost his life during World War II reproduced Nazi
methods over the course of a savage and nameless war against a ­people de-
nied the right to self-­determination. Fanon often said of the war in Algeria,
the “most horrific” of wars, that it had taken on the “look of an au­then­tic
genocide” or e­ lse an “enterprise of extermination.”12 As he wrote elsewhere,
the war was “the most hallucinatory war that any p­ eople has ever waged to
smash colonial aggression.”13 In Algeria it created a “bloodthirsty and pitiless

160  CHAPTER Six

atmosphere” that led to the widespread “generalization of inhuman prac-
tices.” As a result, many among the colonized had the impression of being
“caught up in a veritable Apocalypse.”14 During this fight to the death,
Fanon had taken the side of the Algerian ­people. From then on, France no
longer recognized him as one of its own. He had “betrayed” the nation. He
became an “­enemy,” and long ­after his death was treated as such.
­After its defeat in Algeria and the loss of its colonial empire, France
had retreated into the Hexagon. Struck by aphasia, it dove into a kind of
postimperial winter.15 Having suppressed its colonial past, it settled into a
phase of “good conscience,” forgot Fanon, and subsequently missed out
on the new global intellectual journeys that ­shaped the end of the twenti-
eth ­century—­notably postcolonial thought and critical race theory.16 But
Fanon’s heretical name was invoked throughout the world by movements
struggling for emancipation. For many organ­izations committed to defend-
ing humiliated p­ eoples, fighting for racial justice, or pushing for new psychi-
atric practices, to say “Fanon” was to call on a kind of “perennial excess,” a
“supplement,” an “elusive remainder” that made it nevertheless pos­si­ble to
offer “something extremely relevant” to the world.17
In our world of hierarchical division, the idea of a common h­ uman con-
dition is the object of many pious declarations. But it is far from being put
into practice. Old colonial divisions have been replaced with vari­ous forms
of apartheid, marginalization, and structural destitution. Global pro­cesses
of accumulation and expropriation in an increasingly brutal world eco-
nomic system have created new forms of vio­lence and in­equality. Their
spread has resulted in new forms of insecurity, undermining the capacity
of many to remain masters of their own lives. But to read Fanon t­ oday is,
first of all, to take precise mea­sure of his proj­ect with the goal of continu-
ing it. For if his thought rang out like a bell, filling its moment with bronze
vibration, it is ­because it countered the brazen law of colonialism with
a response that was equally implacable and power­ful. His was a situated
thinking, born of a lived experience that was always in pro­gress, unstable,
and changing. An experience at the limits, full of risk, where the thinking
subject reflected in full awareness on his history, his very existence, and his
own name, and in the name of the ­people to come, ­those yet to be born. As
a result, in Fanon’s logic, to think was to walk with ­others ­toward a world
created together unendingly, irreversibly, within and through strug­gle.18

The Clinic of the Subject  161

For a common world to emerge, critical thought had to be deployed like
an artillery shell aimed at smashing, puncturing, and transforming the
mineral and rocky wall and interosseous membrane of colonialism. It is
this energy that made Fanon’s thinking metamorphic thought.

The ­Great Destruction

To reread Fanon t­ oday is also to take on for ourselves, in our own conditions,
some of the questions he never ceased to ask of his own time, questions
related to the possibility for subjects and ­peoples to stand up, walk with
their own feet, use their own hands, ­faces, and bodies to write their own
histories as part of a world that we all share, to which we all have a right, to
which we are all heirs.19 If ­there is one ­thing that ­will never die in Fanon, it
is the proj­ect of the collective rise of humanity. In his eyes, this irrepress-
ible and implacable quest for liberty required the mobilization of all of life’s
reserves. Each ­human subject, and each ­people, was to engage in a ­grand
proj­ect of self-­transformation, in a strug­gle to the death, without reserve.
They had to take it on as their own. They could not delegate it to ­others.
In this quasi-­sacrificial aspect of his thought, the duty to revolt, to rise
up, became an injunction. It went hand in hand with the duty to vio­lence—a
strategic term in the Fanonian lexicon that, as a result of hasty and some-
times casual readings, has led to many misunderstandings. It is therefore
worthwhile to return briefly to the historical conditions that served as the
background for Fanon’s conceptualization of vio­lence. We must remember
two t­ hings. First, for Fanon, vio­lence was as much a po­liti­cal as a clinical con-
cept. It was as much the clinical manifestation of a “sickness” of a po­liti­cal
nature as it was a practice of the transformation of symbols. What was at
stake was the possibility of reciprocity, and therefore of relative equality in
the face of the supreme judgment of death. By choosing vio­lence over be-
coming its victim, the colonized returns to himself. He discovers that “his
life, his breath, his heartbeat are the same as that of the colonizer” and that
“the skin of a colonist is not worth any more than that of a native.”20 In the
pro­cess he reconstitutes himself and redefines himself. He learns anew to
weigh and value his life and his own presence to his body, to his word, to
the Other, and to the world.
On the conceptual level, Fanonian discourse on vio­lence in general and
on the vio­lence of the colonized in par­tic­ul­ar emerges from the intersec-

162  CHAPTER Six

tion of the clinic of the subject and the politics of the patient. For Fanon, in
effect, politics and the clinic are both psychic sites par excellence.21 Th ­ ese
locations, which a priori are empty, come to be animated by speech. At
stake is the relationship to language and the body. Both also expose two
events that are decisive for the subject: on the one hand, the radical and
nearly irreversible change in the relationship to oneself and to o­ thers en-
gendered by the colonial situation; on the other, the extraordinary vulner-
ability of the psyche in the face of the traumatic experience of the real.22
But the relationship between ­these two universes is far from stable. Indeed,
Fanon distinguishes clearly between the politics of the clinic and the clini-
cal aspect of politics. He constantly oscillates between the two. At times he
sees politics as a form of the clinic, and the clinical as a form of politics. At
­others he underlines the unavoidable character, the failures, and the impasse
of the clinic, especially in situations in which the trauma of war, the ambient
destruction and pain and suffering broadly produced by the bestial law of
colonialism, weakens the capacity of the subject or patient to enter into the
world of h­ uman speech.23 Revolutionary vio­lence is the shock that explodes
this ambivalence. But Fanon shows that while vio­lence is a key phase in the
acquisition of the status of po­liti­cal subject, vio­lence itself, upon eruption,
creates considerable psychic wounds. While the vio­lence carried out by
the subject during the war of liberation could become a form of language,
it was equally capable of ceasing language, of producing muteness, halluci-
natory haunting, and trauma in survivors.
In Algeria, France attempted a “total war” that incited an equally total
response on the part of the Algerian re­sis­tance. Through his experience
of the war and the racism that was one of its driving forces, Fanon be-
came convinced that colonialism was fundamentally a necropo­liti­cal force
animated by genocidal impulses.24 The colonial situation was, above all,
a situation of potentially exterminating vio­lence that had to be converted
into an ontology and a ge­ne­tics in order to reproduce and perpetuate itself.
As a result, the only way to assure its destruction was through an “abso-
lute line of action.”25 Imbued with this realization, Fanon developed his
reflections on three forms of vio­lence: colonial vio­lence (whose incan-
descent moment was the Algerian war), the emancipatory vio­lence of the
colonized (whose ultimate stage was the war of national liberation), and
vio­lence in international relations. In his eyes, colonial vio­lence had three
dimensions. It was a founding vio­lence to the extent that it presided over

The Clinic of the Subject  163

the institutionalization of a mode of subjection whose origins w ­ ere rooted
in vio­lence, and whose function and longevity depended on vio­lence.
Colonialism, from this perspective, was unique ­because it dressed up in
the appearance of civil society what was based, at its origin and in its daily
functioning, on a state of nature.
Colonial vio­lence was, furthermore, an empirical vio­lence. It enclosed
the daily life of the colonized using techniques that w ­ ere at once reticular
and molecular. It created a grid of lines and knots that was physical, to be
sure—­like the barbed wire of the internment and resettlement camps dur-
ing the high point of the counterinsurgency. But it also worked according
to a system of crossed wires, along a spatial and topological axis that in-
cluded not only surface (horizontality) but also height (verticality).26 The
goal of raids, extralegal assassinations, expulsions, and mutilations was to
target individuals whose instincts and very capacity to breathe had to be
controlled.27 This molecular vio­lence even infiltrated language. Its weight
crushed all the scenes of life, including the scene of speech. It manifested
itself most of all in the everyday be­hav­ior of the colonizer t­ oward the col-
onized: aggressiveness, racism, disdain, unending rituals of humiliation,
homicidal be­hav­ior—­what Fanon called “the politics of hate.”28
Colonial vio­lence was, fi­nally, a phenomenal vio­lence. In this regard it
affected not only the domain of the senses but also the psychic and emo-
tional domains. It generated ­mental disorders that ­were difficult to treat
and heal. It excluded any dialectic of recognition and was indifferent to all
moral argumentation. It attacked time, one of the privileged ­mental contexts
of all subjectivity, which placed the colonized in danger of losing the use of
all traces of memory, precisely t­ hose that might have allowed them “to turn
loss into something other than a hemorrhagic abyss.”29 One of its functions
was not only to empty the colonized’s past of all substance, but also to fore-
close on the ­future. It also attacked the bodies of the colonized, structuring
their muscles, provoking stiffening and deformation. And it did not spare
the psyche, since vio­lence aims at nothing less than decerebration. The body
and conscience of the colonized ­were striped with cuts, wounds, and inju-
ries. Fanon’s practice was to understand them and heal them.30 We might call
this ­triple vio­lence a sovereign vio­lence, since in real­ity it was composed of
“multiple, diverse, repeated and cumulative vio­lence.”31 The colonized expe-
rienced it in their muscles and blood. It required that the colonized perceive

164  CHAPTER Six

their lives as a “permanent strug­gle against an omnipresent death.” It made
their lives as a w­ hole seem like an “incomplete death.”32 Above all, it in-
cited within them an interior rage, that of a “pursued man,” one forced to
contemplate, with his own eyes, the real­ity of a “truly animal existence.”33
Fanon’s entire oeuvre was a deposition in defense of this bullied and
ruined existence. It was an obstinate search for the traces of life that sur-
vived this g­ reat destruction. New forms of life, he believed, would be born
out of this extraordinary state, through hand-­to-­hand combat with death
itself.34 For him, the role of the critic was as both actor and eyewitness
to the events he recounted. He listened to, but also fought alongside, the
world emerging from the depths of the strug­gle. His speech was an incan-
descent filament, at once testimony and ­legal declaration. To be a witness
to the colonial situation was above all to offer an account of lives plunged
into never-­ending agony. It meant “walk[ing] step-­by-­step along the ­great
wound inflicted on the Algerian soil and on the Algerian ­people.” It was
necessary, he insisted, “to question the Algerian earth meter by meter,” to
“mea­sure the fragmentation of the Algerian f­ amily, the degree to which it
finds itself scattered” as a result of colonial occupation. It was necessary to
listen to the “haggard and famished” orphans, to the “husband taken away
by the e­ nemy who comes back with his body covered with contusions,
more dead than alive, his mind stunned.” ­Doing so meant being attentive
to the scenes of mourning, to ­those sites of loss and heartbreak where new
practices had emerged in place of yesterday’s lamentations. The ordeal of
strug­gle had put an end to crying and shouting. ­People did not do what
they used to, he noticed. Instead, “one grits one’s teeth and one prays in
silence. One further step, and it is cries of joy that salute the death of the
moudjahid who has fallen on the field of honor.” And from the transfigura-
tion of suffering and death was born a new “spiritual community.”35

The Emancipatory Vio­lence of the Colonized

For Fanon, ­there was a categorical difference between the vio­lence of the
colonizer and that of the colonized. The vio­lence of the colonized was not
ideological, at least not at first. It was the exact opposite of colonial vio­lence.
Before it was consciously turned against colonial oppression during the
war of national liberation, it manifested itself in the form of pure rush—ad

The Clinic of the Subject  165

hoc vio­lence, reptilian and epileptic, a murderous and s­ imple gesture car-
ried out by “the hunted man” with his “back to the wall,” the knife “at his
throat (or, more precisely, the electrode at his genitals),” seeking desper-
ately “to show that he is prepared to fight for his life.”36
How to transform this energetic fervor, this banal instinct for survival,
into full and complete po­liti­cal speech? How to turn it into an affirmative
countervoice in the face of the logic of death deployed by the occupying
power? How to turn it into an emancipatory gesture endowed with the
attributes of value, reason, and truth? Th ­ ese questions w ­ ere the starting
point for Fanon’s reflections on the vio­lence of the colonized. This was no
longer the vio­lence that the colonized simply suffered, the vio­lence that
was imposed on them and that turned them into resigned victims. Instead,
from then on, the colonized chose to offer vio­lence to the colonizer. Fanon
described this gift in the language of “work,” as a “practice of vio­lence,”
a “reaction to the settler’s vio­lence in the beginning.” This vio­lence was
produced as a kind of circulating energy through which “each individual
forms a violent link in a g­ reat chain, a part of the g­ reat organism of vio­
lence” within a “cement which has been mixed with blood and anger.”37 The
radical rejection of imposed vio­lence represented a major moment in the
transformation of symbols.38 The goal of work was to produce life. But
life could spring forth only from “the rotting corpse of the settler.”39 The
goal was truly to give death to t­ hose who ­were habituated never to receive
it, who had always only submitted o­ thers to death without restraint or
Fanon was conscious of the fact that, by choosing “­counter-­vio­lence,”
the colonized were opening the door to a disastrous reciprocity—­a “recur-
ring terror.” But he believed that in extreme circumstances, circumstances
in which all distinction between civil and military power had been elimi-
nated and the rules governing the distribution of weapons within colonial
society had been profoundly transformed, the only way for the colonized
to restore themselves to life was to use vio­lence to impose a redefinition
of the mechanisms through which death was distributed. The resulting ex-
change nevertheless remained unequal. Did not “machine-­gunning from
airplanes and bombardments from the fleet go far beyond in horror and
magnitude . . . ​any answer the natives can make?” Moreover, the recourse
to vio­lence did not automatically restore the equivalence between the
lives of colonizer and colonized. The news of “seven Frenchmen killed

166  CHAPTER Six

or wounded at the Col de Sakamody” incited the “indignation of all civi-
lized consciences,” while the “the sack of the douars of Guergour and the
dechras of Djerah and the massacre of ­whole populations—­which had
merely called for the Sakamody ambush as a reprisal—­all of this is of not
the slightest importance.” 40
But what gave the vio­lence of the colonized its ethical dimension was
its close connection with care and healing: the treatment provided in mili-
tary hospitals to the injured, including to prisoners that the rebellion re-
fused to kill in their beds the way the colonial troops did; the care offered
to torture victims whose personalities had been permanently dislocated,
to Algerian ­women gone mad ­after being raped, and even to torturers
haunted by their terrifying doubles—­their victims. In addition to healing
the wounds of colonial atrocities, the vio­lence of the colonized had three
purposes. It served as a call to a ­people who ­were caught in the grip of
history and trapped in an untenable situation. They ­were asked to exercise
their freedom, to take charge, to name themselves, to spring to life, and
if they refused, they had at least to admit their bad faith in not ­doing so.
They had to make a choice, risk their lives, expose themselves, and “draw
on their entire reserves and their most hidden resources.” 41 Such was the
precondition for achieving liberty. In taking t­ hese risks, they counted on
an unshakable faith in the power of the masses and on a philosophy of the
­will to become ­humans among other ­humans.
Fanon’s theory of vio­lence, however, makes sense only within the con-
text of a more general theory, one of the rise of humanity. In the colonial
context that was the foundation for Fanon’s thought, the rise of human-
ity meant that the colonized would propel themselves, through their own
strength, to a level higher than the one to which they had been consigned
as a result of racism or subjugation. The embattled ­human subject, brought
to his knees and subjected to abuse, rallies on his own, scales the ramp, and
pulls himself up to his full height and to that of other h­ umans. When nec-
essary, he uses vio­lence—­what Fanon called “the absolute line of action.” 42
In this way he reopens the possibility—­for him and for all of humanity,
starting with his executioners—­for a new and open dialogue between two
equal ­human subjects, when before t­ here was only an opposition between
a man (the colonizer) and his object (the colonized). From this moment
on, ­there is no Black or White. ­There is only a world fi­nally freed from the
burden of race, a world that every­one has the right to inherit.

The Clinic of the Subject  167

If Fanon was offering a form of knowledge, it was a situated knowledge—­a
knowledge of the experience of marginalization and subjection, a knowl-
edge of the dehumanizing colonial situation, and a knowledge of the means
to bring it to an end. ­W hether it was a case of trying to “convey the mis-
ery of the black man” in the face of a racist social order or of being aware
of the transformation engendered by the war of liberation in Algeria, his
knowledge was always openly partisan. It aimed for neither objectivity nor
neutrality. “I have not wished to be objective,” he declared. “Besides, that
would be dishonest: It is not pos­si­ble for me to be objective.” 43 It was,
above all, a way of accompanying the strug­gle of t­ hose who w ­ ere wounded,
decerebrated, and driven mad by colonial vio­lence, and—­wherever this was
still pos­si­ble—of curing and healing them.
It was also a form of knowledge that joined the critique of h­ uman life
with the politics of strug­gle and of the work required to escape death. From
this perspective, the goal of strug­gle was to produce life, with “absolute
vio­lence” serving as an agent of de-­intoxication and institutionalization.
It was, in effect, through vio­lence that “the ‘­thing’ which has been colo-
nized becomes a man” and that new men could be created, along with “a
new language and a new humanity.” Life as a result took on the appear-
ance of an unending strug­gle.44 Strictly speaking, life was what produced
strug­gle. Strug­gle as such had three dimensions. First, it aimed to destroy
that which destroyed, amputated, dismembered, blinded, and provoked
fear and rage. Second, it sought to take care of and, eventually, heal t­ hose
who had been hurt, raped, tortured, imprisoned, or simply driven mad by
power. Strug­gle’s function, from then on, was to contribute to the general
pro­cess of healing. Fi­nally, its goal was to offer a tomb to all who had fallen,
“shot in the back.” 45 From this perspective, strug­gle played the role of a
burial. Through its three functions, the link between life and power be-
came clear. Power, in this view, was power only to the extent that it ­shaped
life at the intersection of health, sickness, and death (or burial).
The strug­gle that Fanon wrote about took place in a context in which
power—in this case colonial power—­tended to reduce what passed as the
space of life to an extreme destitution of the body and its needs, which
Fanon described in the following terms: “The relations of man with m ­ atter,
with the world outside, and with history are in the colonial period simply
relations with food.” For the colonized, he insisted, “living does not mean
embodying moral values or taking his place in the coherent and fruitful de-

168  CHAPTER Six

velopment of the world.” Rather, to live is simply “to keep on existing.” To
exist is a “triumph for life.” And he adds, “The fact is that the only perspec-
tive is that belly which is more and more sunken, which is certainly less
and less demanding, but which must be contented all the same.” In Fanon’s
eyes, this annexation of h­ uman beings by the power of the material,
the material of death and of need, constituted the time “before life began,”
the “heavy darkness”—or the “­great night” that had to be escaped.46 The
time before life could be recognized by the fact that, u­ nder its empire,
­there was never a question of the colonized giving meaning to their life,
but only of giving meaning “to their death.” 47 Fanon gave the escape from
the “­great night” several dif­fer­ent names: “liberation,” “rebirth,” “restitu-
tion,” “substitution,” “resurgence,” “emergence,” and “absolute disorder,”
or “walking constantly, at night and in the day,” “making a new man stand
up,” “finding something ­else,” a new subject emerging ­whole out of the
“cement which has been mixed with blood and anger”—­a nearly inde-
finable subject, always outdoing itself, a kind of difference that resists
law, division, and hurt.
As a result, the critique of life, for Fanon, was intertwined with the
critique of suffering, fear, and need, of work and law—­notably the law of
race, or what turns p­ eople into slaves by crushing and exhausting both the
body and the ner­vous system. It was also intertwined with a critique of
mea­sure­ment and value—­the precondition for a politics of equality and
universality. But this politics of equality and universality—­another name
for truth and reason—­was pos­si­ble only for t­hose who wanted and de-
manded the “man in front of us” and accepted that such a man was “no
longer just a body.” 48 To reread Fanon t­oday, then, is partly about learn-
ing to resituate his life, work, and language within the history into which
he was born and which he tried to transform through strug­gle and criti-
cism. It also means translating—­into the language of our time—­the major
questions that forced him to stand up, uproot himself, and travel among
companions along the new road that the colonized had to build with their
own strength, with their own inventiveness, with their irreducible ­will.
We must reactualize this marriage of strug­gle and criticism in our con­
temporary world. And so it is inevitable that we must think at once with
and against Fanon, the difference between him and some of us being that,
for him, to think was first of all to uproot oneself from oneself. It was to put
one’s life in the balance.

The Clinic of the Subject  169

That said, our world is not exactly his world—­and yet! Neo-­and para-
colonial wars are, ­after all, flourishing once again. The forms of occupation
have changed with torture, internment camps, and secret prisons, and with
­today’s mix of militarism, counterinsurgency, and the pillage of resources
from a distance. The question of the p­ eople’s self-­determination may have
moved to a new location, but it remains as fundamental as it was in Fanon’s
time. In a world that is rebalkanizing itself within increasingly militarized
fences, walls, and borders, where the fury to unveil w ­ omen remains vehe-
ment and the right to mobility is more and more constrained for t­hose in
a number of racialized categories, Fanon’s ­great call for an opening up of
the world w ­ ill inevitably find many echoes. We can, in fact, see this in
the or­ga­ni­za­tion of new forms of strug­gle—­cellular, horizontal, lateral—­
appropriate for the digital age, which are emerging in the four corners of the
If we owe Fanon a debt, it is for the idea that in ­every ­human subject
­there is something indomitable and fundamentally intangible that no
domination—no ­matter what form it takes—­can eliminate, contain, or
suppress, at least not completely. Fanon tried to grasp how this could be
reanimated and brought back to life in a colonial context that in truth is
dif­fer­ent from ours, even if its double—­institutional racism—­remains our
own beast. For this reason, his work represents a kind of fibrous lignite, a
weapon of steel, for the oppressed in the world ­today.

The Cloud of Glory

For Nelson Mandela, this weapon of steel took on a material form. Apart-
heid, far from an ordinary form of colonial domination and racial oppres-
sion, incited the emergence of a class of extraordinary and fearless men and
­women who brought about its abolition at the cost of tremendous sacrifice.
If, among them all, Mandela came to name the movement, it was ­because at
each crossroads in his life he succeeded—­sometimes ­under pressure from
circumstances, but often voluntarily—in following unexpected paths. His
life can be summarized in few words: a man constantly on the lookout, a
sentinel at the point of departure, whose returns—as unexpected as they
­were miraculous—­only contributed to his mythologization. His myth was
founded in part on the desire for the sacred and a thirst for the secret. But

170  CHAPTER Six

it flourished from the beginning b­ ecause of the proximity of death, that
primal form of departure and uprooting.
Mandela experienced uprooting very early on when he converted to
nationalism—as ­others did—as if to a religion. Johannesburg, the city
of gold mines, became the main theater of his encounter with destiny. So
began a long and painful way of the cross made up of deprivation, repeated
arrests, constant harassment, multiple appearances before tribunals, regu-
lar stays in prisons (with their string of tortures and rituals of humilia-
tions), periods of clandestine life of varying length, the inversion of the
worlds of night and day, more and less successful disguises, a dislocated
­family life, homes occupied and then deserted; a man in strug­gle, hunted,
a fugitive always about to leave, guided only by the conviction that one day
soon he would return.49
He took enormous risks, notably with his own life, which he lived
intensely—as if every­thing ­were to begin again, and as if ­every moment
was his last. But he also took risks with the lives of many ­others. He barely
escaped the death sentence. It was 1964. With the other accused alongside
him, he had prepared himself to be condemned, expecting the death
sentence: “We discussed it, as I say, and we said that it was necessary for
us to think, not only just in terms of ourselves, who w ­ ere in this situation,
but of the strug­gle as a ­whole. We should dis­appear ­under a cloud of glory, we
should fight back. This is the ser­vice we can render to our organisation and
to our ­people.”50 This Eucharistic vision was, however, ­free from any de-
sire for martyrdom. And in contrast to all the ­others—­Ruben Um Nyobé
Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Martin Luther King Jr., and so many
­others—he escaped this fate. It was in the prison camp, in the space of
forced ­labor and exile, that he truly developed his desire for life. Prison
became the site of extreme trial, that of confinement and the return of man
to his most basic expression. In the place of maximal destitution, Mandela
learned to live in a cell as a living being forced to marry a coffin.51
Over the course of long and horrible hours of solitude, pushed to the
edge of madness, he rediscovered the essential—­all that lies in silence and
detail. Every­thing spoke to him anew: the ant g­ oing who knows where;
the planted seed that dies, then comes to life again, creating the illusion of
a garden in the midst of concrete; the gray of the watchtowers and the loud
clanging of the heavy metal doors closing; the tiny ­thing ­here or ­there, no

The Clinic of the Subject  171

­ atter what it was; the silence of the sad days that all seemed the same and
never seemed to pass; time stretching out interminably; the slowness of
days, the cold of winter nights, and the wind that screamed of desperation
like owls tormented by who knows what; speech becoming so rare; the
world outside of the walls of which no murmurs w ­ ere heard; the abyss
that was Robben Island, and the jailer’s traces on Mandela’s face, which
from then on was sculpted by suffering, his eyes faded by the light of the
sun refracted on quartz, with tears that never came, the dust of a shroud on
a face transformed into a ghostly specter, and on his lungs, toes, and that
tramplike envelope that served as his shoes. But above it all was the joyous
and brilliant smile, that proud, straight, standing posture, his fist clenched,
ready to embrace the world again and raise up a storm.
Stripped of almost every­thing, he strug­gled inch by inch, refusing to
relinquish the humanity that remained and that his jailers wanted at all
costs to rip from him and brandish like a trophy. Reduced to living with
almost nothing, he learned to save every­thing but also to cultivate a pro-
found detachment in relation to the ­things of profane life. Although he
was a prisoner confined between two and a half walls, he was neverthe-
less no one’s slave. A Black Man in bone and flesh, Mandela lived close to
disaster. He penetrated into the night of life, close to the shadows, seeking
an idea that in the end was quite s­ imple: how to live f­ ree from race and
the domination that results from it. His choices brought him to the edge
of the precipice. He fascinated the world ­because he became a revenant
from the land of shadows, a gushing force on the eve of an aging c­ entury
that had forgotten how to dream.
Like the worker’s movements of the nineteenth ­century and the strug­gles
of ­women, our modernity has been haunted by the desire for abolition once
carried by the slaves. At the beginning of the twentieth c­ entury, the dream
lived on in the g­ reat strug­gles for decolonization, which from the begin-
ning had a global dimension. Their significance was never only local. It
was always universal. Even when anticolonial strug­gles mobilized local ac-
tors, in a circumscribed country or territory, they ­were always at the origin
of solidarities forged on a planetary and transnational scale. It was ­these
strug­gles that each time allowed for the extension, or rather the univer-
salization, of rights that had previously remained the privilege of a single

172  CHAPTER Six

Democracy and the Poetics of Race

We are, then, far from living in a postracial era in which questions of mem-
ory, justice, and reconciliation are irrelevant. Could we, however, speak of
a post-­Césairian era? We can, if we embrace and retain the signifier “Black”
not with the goal of finding solace within it but rather as a way of clouding
the term in order to gain distance from it. We must conjure with the term
in order to reaffirm the innate dignity of ­every ­human being and of the
very idea of a h­ uman community, a same humanity, an essential h­ uman
resemblance and proximity. The wellspring for such ascetic work w ­ ill be
found in the best of our Afro-­American and South African po­liti­cal, re-
ligious, and cultural traditions. ­These include the prophetic religions of
the descendants of slaves and the utopian functions so characteristic of the
work of artistic creation. For communities whose history has long been
one of debasement and humiliation, religious and artistic creation has
often represented the final defense against the forces of dehumanization
and death. This twofold creation has deeply ­shaped po­liti­cal praxis. It has
always served as a metaphysical and aesthetic envelope, since one of the
functions of art and religion has been precisely to maintain the hope of
escaping the world as it has been and as it is, to be reborn into life, to lead
the festival once again.
­Here the primary function of the work of art has never been to represent,
illustrate, or narrate real­ity. It has always been in its nature si­mul­ta­neously
to confuse and mimic original forms and appearances. As a figurative form, it
certainly maintained a relationship of resemblance to the original object.
But at the same time it constantly redoubled the original object, deform-
ing it, distancing itself from it, and most of all conjuring with it. In fact, in
most Black aesthetic traditions, art was produced only through the work
of conjuring, in the space where the optic and tactile functions, along with
the world of the senses, ­were united in a single movement aimed at reveal-
ing the double of the world. In this way the time of a work of art is the
moment when daily life is liberated from accepted rules and is devoid of
both obstacles and guilt.
If t­here is one characteristic trait of artistic creation, it is that, at the
beginning of the act of creation, we always rediscover vio­lence at play, a
miming of sacrilege or transgression, through which art aims to f­ree the

The Clinic of the Subject  173

individual and their community from the world as it has been and as it is.
The hope for the liberation of hidden or forgotten energies, the hope for
an ultimate reversal of vis­i­ble and invisible powers, this hidden dream of
the resurrection of being and of t­hings—­this is the anthropological and
po­liti­cal foundation of classic Black art. At its center we find the body,
what is fundamentally at stake in the movement of power, the privileged
locus for the unveiling of power, and the ultimate symbol of the constitu-
tional debt at the heart of all ­human community, the debt that we inherit
without wanting to and that we can never fully discharge.
The question of debt is another name for life. The central object of ar-
tistic creation, and the spirit of its materiality, has always been the critique
of life and meditation on what resists death. It is impor­tant to clarify that
the critique of life is not carried out in the abstract but is rather a med-
itation on the conditions that make the strug­gle to live, to stay alive, to
survive, in sum, to live a ­human life, the most impor­tant aesthetic—­and
therefore political—­question. ­W hether in reference to sculpture, ­music,
dance, oral lit­er­a­ture, or the worship of divinities, the goal has always been
to awaken slumbering powers, once again to lead the cele­bration, that
privileged channel for ambivalence, the provisional theater of luxury, luck,
expenditure, and sexual activity, the meta­phor for a ­future to come. ­There
has therefore never been anything traditional in this art, if only b­ ecause it
has always been charged with exposing the extraordinary fragility of the
social order. It is a form of art that has constantly reinvented myths and
redirected tradition in order to undermine them through the very act that
pretended to anchor and ratify them. It has always been an art of sacri-
lege, sacrifice, and expenditure, multiplying new fetishes in pursuit of a
generalized deconstruction of existence precisely through its use of play,
leisure, spectacle, and the princi­ple of metamorphosis. It is this utopian,
metaphysical, and aesthetic supplement that the radical critique of race
brings to democracy.
Strug­gle as a praxis of liberation has always drawn part of its imaginary
resources from Chris­tian­ity. The Chris­tian­ity in question is not foremost
that of the Church, which installed itself from the beginning as a form of
dogmatic control precisely where emptiness opened up. Nor is it a certain
discourse about God, whose function has often been to translate “the ever
expanding powerlessness of man seeking to connect with his own desire.”52
What the enslaved and their descendants mean by Chris­tian­ity is a space

174  CHAPTER Six

of truth that opens up within an odd scission in a terrain of a truth that it-
self is always opening itself up—it is a be-­coming, a futurity. They understand
the declaration of a princi­ple that we might summarize as follows: Some-
thing has arrived; an event has occurred; language has unwound; and one
can see with one’s own eyes, hear with one’s own ears, and bear witness
with one’s own tongue, and for all nations. This event is si­mul­ta­neously an
advent. It is a “­here,” a “­there,” a “now” that signifies at once both an instant
and a pres­ent, but most of all the possibility of Jubilee, a sort of plenitude
of time, in which all the ­peoples of the earth ­will fi­nally be re­united around
something infinite that nothing ­will be able to limit.
But the part of Chris­tian­ity that most shapes thought of African ori-
gin is the t­ riple pattern of incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection—of
sacrifice and salvation.53 Meditating on the story of Philip and the eunuch
in 1882, Edward W. Blyden saw in the suffering of the Son of God an an-
ticipation of the sufferings ­later experienced by the Black race. The God
of salvation g­ ambles by incarnating himself in a Black body subjected to
brutality, spoliation, and vio­lence. The ­gamble is one of a meaning that is
open and still to come. In Blyden’s eyes, the event of the cross reveals a
conception of God and his relationship to suffering humanity that defines
the latter as a relationship of justice, freedom, and unconditional recog-
nition. The two moments of Christ’s violent death and his resurrection
reveal the absolute singularity of a ­human transformation—­a transforma-
tion into which the Black race is invited. In order to make itself into a sign
of salvation, the Black race must become a community of faith, conviction,
and reciprocity.54
For Martin Luther King Jr., meanwhile, it was through the crucifixion
that God acquired his truth as a h­ uman confronting his absolute destruc-
tion.55 In return, man and God can henceforth each exist within, and
for, the other. By converting the negative into being, Christ undoes
death itself. The question that traverses African-­American Chris­tian­ity is
­whether Christ truly died for the Black Man. Does Christ ­really deliver
him from death and save him from facing it? Or, rather, does Christ give
his journey a deep significance that breaks radically from the prosaic char-
acter of a nameless life u­ nder the cross of racism? In Christ, does death
cease to be what is most radically unavoidable? Such is effectively the final
meaning of Christ’s suffering, the “madness” and “scandal” of which Paul
speaks. The proclamation of Christ comes down to a message we can

The Clinic of the Subject  175

summarize in this way: “I can henceforth be pulled from the concrete ex-
perience of my death. D ­ ying for another (the ultimate gift) is no longer an
impossibility. Death is no longer irreplaceable. ­There is no longer anything
but the infinite becoming of life, the absolute reconciliation of salvation
and the tragic, in absolute reciprocity and the apotheosis of the spirit.” In
this perspective the final truth of death is in the resurrection—in the infi-
nite possibility of life. The question of the resurrection of the dead, of the
return and restitution of the dead to life, of the fact of making life spring
forth where death had eliminated it—­this is what constitutes the strength
of Chris­tian­ity beyond its formal ecclesial institutions. It is one of the
reasons why the figure of Christ, as the ultimate gift to the Other, occu-
pies such a central place in Black po­liti­cal theology. This presence for the
Other, alongside the Other, as a witness for the Other, is another name for
the politics of the gift, of oblation, of freedom.
But for which rights should Blacks continue to strug­gle? Every­thing de-
pends on the locations in which they find themselves, the historical con-
texts in which they live, and the objective conditions they face. Every­thing
depends as well on the nature of the racial formations in the midst of which
they are called to live: e­ ither as historical minorities whose presence is not
contested but whose entire belonging to the nation remains ambiguous
(the case of the United States); as minorities that society chooses neither
to see, nor to recognize, nor to listen to as such (the case of France); or ­else
as a demographic majority exercising po­liti­cal power but relatively lack-
ing in economic power (the case of South Africa). What­ever the location,
epoch, or context in which they take place, the horizon of such strug­gles
remains the same: how to belong fully in this world that is common to all
of us, how to pass from the status of the excluded to the status of the right-­
holder, how to participate in the construction and the distribution of the
world. As long as destructive ideas about the in­equality of ­human races
and the differences between ­human species remain alive, the strug­gle led
by ­people of African descent for what we can call an “equal share”—or the
strug­gle for rights and responsibilities—­will remain a legitimate strug­gle.
It ­will have to be carried out not with the goal of separating oneself from
other h­ umans but in solidarity with humanity itself—­a humanity whose
multiple ­faces we seek to reconcile through strug­gle.
The proj­ect of a world in common founded on the princi­ple of “equal
shares” and on the princi­ple of the fundamental unity of h­ uman beings is

176  CHAPTER Six

a universal proj­ect. If we look carefully, we can already see the signs of this
world-­to-­come in the pres­ent, although it is true that they are fragile. But
exclusion, discrimination, and se­lection on the basis of race continue to be
structuring ­factors of in­equality, the absence of rights, and con­temporary
domination, notably in our democracies—­although the fact is often de-
nied. And we cannot act as if slavery and colonization never took place, or
as if we are completely rid of the legacies of such an unhappy period. Al-
though ­there has been ­great effort to mask it, the transformation of Eu­rope
into a “fortress” and recent legislation against foreigners put into place on
the Old Continent are both deeply rooted in the ideology of se­lection
among dif­fer­ent ­human races.
Until we have eliminated racism from our current lives and imagina-
tions, we w ­ ill have to continue to strug­gle for the creation of a world-­
beyond-­race. But to achieve it, to sit down at a ­table to which every­one has
been invited, we must undertake an exacting po­liti­cal and ethical critique
of racism and of the ideologies of difference. The cele­bration of difference
­will be meaningful only if it opens onto the fundamental question of our
time, that of sharing, of the common, of the expansion of our horizon. The
weight of history ­will be t­ here. We must learn to do a better job of carry­ing
it, and of sharing its burden. We are condemned to live not only with what
we have produced but also with what we have inherited. Given that we
have not completely escaped the spirit of a time dominated by the hierar-
chization of ­human types, we ­will need to work with and against the past
to open up a f­ uture that can be shared in full and equal dignity. The path is
clear: on the basis of a critique of the past, we must create a f­ uture that is
inseparable from the notions of justice, dignity, and the in-­common.
Along such a path, the new “wretched of the earth” are t­ hose to whom
the right to have rights is refused, t­ hose who are told not to move, t­ hose
who are condemned to live within structures of confinement—­camps,
transit centers, the thousands of sites of detention that dot our spaces of
law and policing. They are t­ hose who are turned away, deported, expelled;
the clandestine, the “undocumented”—­the intruders and castoffs from
humanity that we want to get rid of b­ ecause we think that, between them
and us, t­ here is nothing worth saving, and that they fundamentally pose a
threat to our lives, our health, our well-­being. The new “wretched of the
earth” are the products of a brutal pro­cess of control and se­lection whose
racial foundations we well know.

The Clinic of the Subject  177

As long as the idea persists that we owe justice only to our own kind
and that t­ here are unequal races and p­ eoples, and as long as we continue to
make p­ eople believe that slavery and colonialism ­were ­great feats of “civili-
zation,” then the notion of reparation ­will continue to be mobilized by the
historical victims of the brutality of Eu­ro­pean expansion in the world. In
this context we need a dual approach. On the one hand, we must escape
the status of victimhood. On the other, we must make a break with “good
conscience” and the denial of responsibility. It is through this dual ap-
proach that we ­will be able to articulate a new politics and ethics founded
on a call for justice. That said, to be African is first and foremost to be a
­free man, or, as Fanon always proclaimed, “a man among other men.”56
A man ­free from every­thing, and therefore able to invent himself. A true
politics of identity consists in constantly nourishing, fulfilling, and reful-
filling the capacity for self-­invention. Afrocentrism is a hypostatic variant
of the desire of t­ hose of African origin to need only to justify themselves
to themselves. It is true that such a world is above all a form of relation to
oneself. But ­there is no relation to oneself that does not also implicate the
Other. The Other is at once difference and similarity, united. What we must
imagine is a politics of humanity that is fundamentally a politics of the simi-
lar, but in a context in which what we all share from the beginning is dif-
ference. It is our differences that, paradoxically, we must share. And all of
this depends on reparation, on the expansion of our conception of justice
and responsibility.

178  CHAPTER Six


The birth of the racial subject—­and therefore of Blackness—is linked to

the history of capitalism. Capitalism emerged as a double impulse t­ oward,
on the one hand, the unlimited violation of all forms of prohibition and, on
the other, the abolition of any distinction between ends and means. The
Black slave, in his dark splendor, was the first racial subject: the product
of the two impulses, the most vis­i­ble symbol of the possibility of vio­lence
without limits and of vulnerability without a safety net.
Capitalism is the power of capture, influence, and polarization, and it has
always depended on racial subsidies to exploit the planet’s resources. Such
was the case yesterday. It is the case t­oday, even as capitalism sets about
recolonizing its own center. Never has the perspective of a Becoming Black
of the world loomed more clearly.
No region of the world is spared from the logics of the distribution of
vio­lence on a planetary scale, or from the vast operation u­ nder way to de-
value the forces of production.
But as long as the retreat from humanity is incomplete, ­there is a still a
possibility of restitution, reparation, and justice. ­These are the conditions
for the collective resurgence of humanity. Thinking through what must
come ­will of necessity be a thinking through of life, of the reserves of life,
of what must escape sacrifice. It ­will of necessity be a thinking in circulation,
a thinking of crossings, a world-­thinking.
The question of the world—­what it is, what the relationship is between
its vari­ous parts, what the extent of its resources is and to whom they
belong, how to live in it, what moves and threatens it, where it is g­ oing,
what its borders and limits, and its pos­si­ble end, are—­has been within us
since a ­human being of bone, flesh, and spirit made its first appearance
­under the sign of the Black Man, as ­human-­merchandise, ­human-­metal, and
­human-­money. Fundamentally, it was always our question. And it ­will stay
that way as long as speaking the world is the same as declaring humanity,
and vice versa.
For, in the end, ­there is only one world. It is composed of a totality of a
thousand parts. Of every­one. Of all worlds.
Édouard Glissant gave this living entity with multiple facets a name:
Tout-­Monde, or All-­World. It was a way of underscoring the fact that the
concept of humanity itself is si­mul­ta­neously an epiphany and an ecumeni-
cal gesture, a concept without which the world, in its thingness, would sig-
nify nothing.
It is therefore humanity as a ­whole that gives the world its name. In
conferring its name on the world, it delegates to it and receives from it
confirmation of its own position, singular yet fragile, vulnerable and par-
tial, at least in relation to the other forces of the universe—­animals and
vegetables, objects, molecules, divinities, techniques and raw materials,
the earth trembling, volcanoes erupting, winds and storms, rising w ­ aters,
the sun that explodes and burns, and all the rest of it. Th ­ ere is therefore
no world except by way of naming, del­e­ga­tion, mutuality, and reciprocity.
But humanity as a w ­ hole delegates itself in the world and receives from the
world confirmation of its own being as well as its fragility. And so the differ-
ence between the world of ­humans and the world of nonhumans is no longer
an external one. In opposing itself to the world of nonhumans, humanity op-
poses itself. For, in the end, it is in the relationship that we maintain with
the totality of the living world that the truth of who we are is made vis­i­ble.
In ancient Africa the vis­i­ble sign of the epiphany that is humanity was
the seed that one placed in the soil. It dies, is reborn, and produces the
tree, fruit, and life. It was to a large extent to celebrate the marriage of the
seed and life that ancient Africans in­ven­ted speech and language, objects
and techniques, ceremonies and rituals, works of art—­indeed, social and
po­liti­cal institutions. The seed had to produce life in the fragile and hostile
environment in the midst of which humanity also had to find space for
work and rest—an environment that needed protection and repair. What
made most vernacular knowledge useful was the part it played in the end-
less ­labor of reparation. It was understood that nature was a force in and of
itself. One could not mold, transform, or control nature when not in har-

180  Epilogue
mony with it. And this double l­abor of transformation and regeneration
was part of a cosmological assembly whose function was to consolidate
the relationships between ­humans and the other living beings with which
they shared the world.
Sharing the world with other beings was the ultimate debt. And it
was, above all, the key to the survival of both ­humans and nonhumans.
In this system of exchange, reciprocity, and mutuality, h­ umans and non-
humans ­were silt for one another.
Glissant spoke of silt as the castoff of ­matter: a substance made up of
seemingly dead ele­ments, ­things apparently lost, debris stolen from the
source, w ­ ater laden. But he also saw silt as a residue deposited along the
banks of rivers, in the midst of archipelagos, in the depths of oceans, along
valleys and at the feet of cliffs—­everywhere, and especially in t­ hose arid
and deserted places where, through an unexpected reversal, fertilizer gave
birth to new forms of life, ­labor, and language.
The durability of our world, he insisted, must be thought from the
underside of our history, from the slave and the cannibal structures of our
modernity, from all that was put in place at the time of the slave trade and
fed on for centuries. The world that emerged from the cannibal structure is
built on countless ­human bones buried ­under the ocean, bones that ­little by
­little transformed themselves into skeletons and endowed themselves with
flesh. It is made up of tons of debris and stumps, of bits of words scattered
and joined together, out of which—as if by a miracle—­language is reconsti-
tuted in the place where the ­human being meets its own animal form. The
durability of the world depends on our capacity to reanimate beings and
­things that seem lifeless—the dead man, turned to dust by the desiccated
economy; an order poor in worldliness that traffics in bodies and life.
The world ­will not survive ­unless humanity devotes itself to the task of
sustaining what can be called the reservoirs of life. The refusal to perish may
yet turn us into historical beings and make it pos­si­ble for the world to be
a world. But our vocation to survive depends on making the desire for life
the cornerstone of a new way of thinking about politics and culture.
Among the ancient Dogon ­people, the unending ­labor of reparation
had a name: the dialectic of meat and seed. The work of social institutions
was to fight the death of the h­ uman, to ward off corruption, that pro­cess of
decay and rot. The mask was the ultimate symbol of the determination of
the living to defend themselves against death. A simulacrum of a corpse and

Epilogue  181
substitute for the perishable body, its function was not only to commemo-
rate the dead but also to bear witness to the transfiguration of the body
(the perishable envelope) and to the apotheosis of a rot-­proof world. It was
therefore a way of returning to the idea that, as long as the work of repara-
tion continued, life was an imperishable form, one that could not decay.
In such conditions we create borders, build walls and fences, divide,
classify, and make hierarchies. We try to exclude—­from humanity itself—­
those who have been degraded, ­those whom we look down on or who
do not look like us, ­those with whom we imagine never being able to get
along. But t­ here is only one world. We are all part of it, and we all have a right
to it. The world belongs to all of us, equally, and we are all its coinheritors,
even if our ways of living in it are not the same, hence the real pluralism of
cultures and ways of being. To say this is not to deny the brutality and cyn-
icism that still characterize the encounters between ­peoples and nations.
It is simply to remind us of an immediate and unavoidable fact, one whose
origins lie in the beginnings of modern times: that the pro­cesses of mixing
and interlacing cultures, ­peoples, and nations are irreversible.
­There is therefore only one world, at least for now, and that world is
all ­there is. What we all therefore have in common is the feeling or desire
that each of us must be a full h­ uman being. The desire for the fullness of
humanity is something we all share. And, more and more, we also all share
the proximity of the distant. W ­ hether we want to or not, the fact remains
that we all share this world. It is all that ­there is, and all that we have.
To build a world that we share, we must restore the humanity stolen
from ­those who have historically been subjected to pro­cesses of abstrac-
tion and objectification. From this perspective, the concept of reparation
is not only an economic proj­ect but also a pro­cess of reassembling ampu-
tated parts, repairing broken links, relaunching the forms of reciprocity
without which ­there can be no pro­gress for humanity.
Restitution and reparation, then, are at the heart of the very possibility
of the construction of a common consciousness of the world, which is the
basis for the fulfillment of universal justice. The two concepts of restitution
and reparation are based on the idea that each person is a repository of a
portion of intrinsic humanity. This irreducible share belongs to each of us.
It makes each of us objectively both dif­fer­ent from one another and similar
to one another. The ethic of restitution and reparation implies the recogni-
tion of what we might call the other’s share, which is not ours, but for which

182  Epilogue
we are nevertheless the guarantor, ­whether we want to be or not. This share
of the other cannot be monopolized without consequences with regard to
how we think about ourselves, justice, law, or humanity itself, or indeed
about the proj­ect of the universal, if that is in fact the final destination.
Reparation, moreover, is necessary b­ ecause of the cuts and scars left
by history. For much of humanity, history has been a pro­cess of habituat-
ing oneself to the deaths of o­ thers—­slow death, death by asphyxiation,
sudden death, delegated death. ­These accommodations with the deaths of
­others, of ­those with whom we imagine to have shared nothing, ­these many
ways in which the springs of life are dried up in the name of race and differ-
ence, have all left deep traces in both imagination and culture and within
social and economic relations. ­These cuts and scars prevent the realization
of community. And the construction of the common is inseparable from
the reinvention of community.
This question of universal community is therefore by definition posed
in terms of how we inhabit the Open, how we care for the Open—­which
is completely dif­fer­ent from an approach that would aim first to enclose, to
stay within the enclosure of what we call our own kin. This form of unkin-
ning is the opposite of difference. Difference is, in most cases, the result of
the construction of desire. It is also the result of a work of abstraction, clas-
sification, division, and exclusion—­a work of power that, afterward, is in-
ternalized and reproduced in the gestures of daily life, even by the excluded
themselves. Often, the desire for difference emerges precisely where ­people
experience intense exclusion. In ­these conditions the proclamation of dif-
ference is an inverted expression of the desire for recognition and inclusion.
But if, in fact, difference is constituted through desire (if not also envy),
then desire is not necessarily a desire for power. It can also be a desire to
be protected, spared, preserved from danger. And the desire for difference
is not necessarily the opposite of the proj­ect of the in-­common. In fact, for
­those who have been subjected to colonial domination, or for t­ hose whose
share of humanity was stolen at a given moment in history, the recovery
of that share often happens in part through the proclamation of difference.
But as we can see within certain strains of modern Black criticism, the
proclamation of difference is only one facet of a larger proj­ect—­the proj­ect
of a world that is coming, a world before us, one whose destination is uni-
versal, a world freed from the burden of race, from resentment, and from
the desire for vengeance that all racism calls into being.

Epilogue  183
This page intentionally left blank

Translator’s Introduction

1 When material quoted by Mbembe in the work is originally in En­glish, I

have found and incorporated the relevant passages from the original works.
I have also tracked down existing En­glish translations of material in French or
other languages, and used the relevant passages from ­those translations. In ­these
cases, the notes in this translation refer to ­these En­glish versions rather than
­those referenced in the original work. In all other cases, I have translated the
quoted material from French to En­glish myself.


1 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Eu­rope: Postcolonial Thought and Histori-

cal ­Difference, Prince­ton Studies in Culture/Power/History (Prince­ton, NJ:
Prince­ton University Press, 2000); Jean Comaroff, Theory from the South; or,
How Euro-­Amer­i­ca Is Evolving ­toward Africa (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2011),
in par­tic­u­lar the introduction; Arjun Appadurai, ed., The ­Future as Cultural
Fact: Essays on the Global Condition (London: Verso Books, 2013); Kuan-­Hsing
Chen, Asia as Method: ­Toward Deimperialization (Durham, NC: Duke University
Press, 2010); and Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global
­Futures, Decolonial Options (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).
2 On the complexity and tensions inherent in this gesture, see Srinivas Aravamu-
dan, Enlightenment Orientalism: Resisting the Rise of the Novel (Chicago: Univer-
sity of Chicago Press, 2012).
3 See François Bernier; and Sue Peabody and Tyler Edward Stovall, eds., The Color
of Liberty: Histories of Race in France (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003);
see also Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,
4 William Max Nelson, “Making Men: Enlightenment Ideas of Racial Engineer-
ing,” American Historical Review 115, no. 2 (2010): 1364–94; James Delbourgo,
“The Newtonian Slave Body: Racial Enlightenment in the Atlantic World,”
Atlantic Studies 9, no. 2 (2012): 185–207; and Nicholas Hudson, “From Nation
to Race: The Origins of Racial Classification in Eighteenth-­Century Thought,”
Eighteenth-­Century Studies 29, no. 3 (1996): 247–64.
5 Gilles Deleuze, Deux régimes de fous: Textes et entretiens, 1975–1995 (Paris:
Minuit, 2003), 25.
6 Miriam Eliav-­Feldon, The Origins of Racism in the West (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2009).
7 Frantz Fanon, Peau noire, masques blancs (Paris: La Découverte, 2012); and
Bloke Modisane, Blame Me on History (New York: Dutton, 1963).
8 Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life inside the Antebellum Slave Market (Cam-
bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999); and Ian Baucom, Specters of the
Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History (Durham, NC:
Duke University Press, 2005).
9 On ­these debates, see John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation
Life in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972); and
Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York:
Pantheon Books, 1974).
10 Dorothy Porter Wesley, Early Negro Writing, 1760–1837 (Baltimore: Black Clas-
sic Press, 1995); Stephen G. Hall, A Faithful Account of the Race: African Ameri-
can Historical Writing in Nineteenth-­Century Amer­i­ca (Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press, 2009), and especially John Ernest, Liberation Historiog-
raphy: African American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794–1861 (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004). On the Antilles in par­tic­u­lar,
see Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphaël Confiant, Lettres créoles: Tracées antillaises
et continentales de la littérature; Haïti, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyane, 1635–1975
(Paris: Hatier, 1991). For the other areas, see S. E. K. Mabinza Mqhayi, Abantu
Besizwe: Historical and Biographical Writings ( Johannesburg: Wits University
Press, 2009); and Alain Ricard, Naissance du roman africain: Félix Couchoro
(1900–1968) (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1988).
11 Joseph Vogl, Le spectre du capital (Paris: Diaphanes, 2013), 152.
12 See Béatrice Hibou, La bureaucratisation du monde à l’ère néolibérale (Paris: La
Découverte, 2012).
13 Vogl, Le spectre du capital, 166ff., 183, 170.
14 Roland Gori and Marie-­José Del Volgo, Exilés de l’intime: La médecine et la
psychiatrie au ser­vice du nouvel ordre économique (Paris: Denoël, 2008).
15 On this perspective, see Francesco Masci, L’ordre règne à Berlin (Paris: Allia, 2013).
16 See Pierre Laval Dardot and Christian Laval, The New Way of the World: On
Neoliberal Society (London: Verso, 2013); see also Roland Gori, “Les dispositifs
de réification de l’humain (entretien avec Philippe Schepens),” Semen: Revue
sémio-­linguistique des textes et discours 30 (2011): 57–70.
17 Françoise Vergès, L’homme prédateur: Ce que nous enseigne l’esclavage sur notre
temps (Paris: Albin Michel, 2011).

186  NOTES TO Introduction

18 See Stephen Graham, Cities ­under Siege: The New Military Urbanism (London:
Verso, 2010); Derek Gregory, “From a View to a Kill: Drones and the Late
Modern War,” Theory, Culture and Society 28, nos. 7–8 (2011): 188–215; Ben
Anderson, “Facing the ­Future ­Enemy: U.S. Counterinsurgency Doctrine and
the Pre-­insurgent,” Theory, Culture and Society 28, nos. 7–8 (2011): 216–40; and
Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (London: Verso,
19 Alain Badiou, “La Grèce, les nouvelles pratiques impériales et la ré-­invention
de la politique,” Lignes, n. 39 (2012): 39–47; see also Achille Mbembe,
“Necropolitics,” Public Culture 15, no. 1 (2003): 11–40; Naomi Klein, The Shock
Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Metropolitan Books,
2007); Adi Ophir, Michal Givoni, and Sari Ḥanafi, The Power of Inclusive Exclu-
sion: Anatomy of ­Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (New York:
Zone Books, 2009); and Weizman, Hollow Land.
20 David H. Ucko, The New Counterinsurgency Era: Transforming the U.S. Military
for Modern Wars (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2009); Jer-
emy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Power­ful Mercenary Army
(New York: Nation Books, 2007); John A. Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a
Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam (Chicago: Univer-
sity of Chicago Press, 2005); and Grégoire Chamayou, Théorie du drone (Paris:
La Fabrique, 2013).
21 Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal
Condition, trans. J. D. Jordan (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012).
22 Didier Anzieu, The Skin Ego (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989).
23 See in par­tic­u­lar the poetry of Aimé Césaire. On the thematic of the salt of the
earth, see Édouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau, L’intraitable beauté du
monde: Adresse à Barack Obama (Paris: Galaade, 2009).
24 Éric Fassin, Démocratie précaire: Chroniques de la déraison d’état (Paris: La
Découverte, 2012); and Didier Fassin, ed., Les nouvelles frontières de la société
française (Paris: La Découverte, 2010).

One ​The Subject of Race

1 James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name (New York: First Vintage Interna-
tional, 1993).
2 Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Richard Philcox (New York:
Grove Press, 2008). See also Richard Wright, Native Son (New York: Harper
and ­Brothers, 1940).
3 Joseph C. Miller, Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave
Trade, 1730–1830 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988).
4 Karen E. Fields and Barbara Jeanne Fields offer a useful distinction between
“race” (the idea that nature has produced distinct groups of ­humans recogniz-
able through inherent traits and specific characteristics that consecrate their

NOTES TO Chapter One  187

difference while placing them on a hierarchical ladder), “racism” (the complex
of social, juridical, po­liti­cal, institutional, and other practices founded on
the refusal of the presumption of equality between ­humans), and what they
call “racecraft” (the repertoire of maneuvers that aim to place ­human beings
­differentiated in this way within an operational grid). Fields and Fields, Race-
craft: The Soul of In­e­qual­ity in American Life (London: Verso, 2012); see also
W. J. T. Mitchell, Seeing through Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2012).
5 On this topic, see Josiah C. Nott, Types of Mankind (London: Trubner, 1854);
and the three volumes by James Bryce: The American Commonwealth (New
York: Macmillan, 1888), The Relations of the Advanced and the Backward Races of
Mankind (London: Clarendon, 1902), and Impressions of South Africa (London:
Macmillan, 1897). See also Charles H. Pearson, National Life and Character:
A Forecast (London: Macmillan, 1893); and Lowe Kong Meng, Cheok Hong
Cheong, and Louis Ah Mouy, eds., The Chinese Question in Australia, 1878–79
(Melbourne: F. F. Bailliere, 1879).
6 Pierre Larousse, Nègre, négrier, traite des nègres: Trois articles du “­Grand diction-
naire universel du XIXe siècle” (Paris: Bleu Autour, 2007), 47.
7 G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller, foreword by J. N.
Findlay (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 420.
8 Larousse, Nègre, négrier, traite des nègres, 68.
9 Christopher Leslie Brown, Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006).
10 See Igor Kopytoff and Suzanne Miers, eds., Slavery in Africa: Historical and
Anthropological Perspectives (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979).
11 On ­these developments, see Thomas Benjamin, Timothy Hall, and David
Rutherford, eds., The Atlantic World in the Age of Empire (Boston: Hough-
ton Mifflin, 2001); and Wim Klooster and Alfred Padula, eds., The Atlantic
World: Essays on Slavery, Migration, and Imagination (Upper ­Saddle River, NJ:
­Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005).
12 Jorge Fonseca, “Black Africans in Portugal during Cleynaert’s Visit (1533–
1538),” in Black Africans in Re­nais­sance Eu­rope, ed. T. F. Earle and K. J. P.
Lowe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 113–21; see also C. M.
Saunders, A Social History of Black Slaves and Freedmen in Portugal, 1441–1555
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).
13 Frédéric Mauro, Le Portugal et l’Atlantique au XVIIe siècle (Paris: sevepen, 1960).
14 Ben Vinson, Bearing Arms for His Majesty: The ­Free-­Colored Militia in Colonial
Mexico (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001).
15 Matthew Restall, “Black Conquistadors: Armed Africans in Early Spanish
Amer­i­ca,” The Amer­i­cas 57, no. 2 (2000): 171–205.
16 Michelle Ann Stephens, Black Empire: The Masculine Global Imaginary of Ca­rib­
bean Intellectuals in the United States, 1914–1962 (Durham, NC: Duke University
Press, 2005).

188  NOTES TO Chapter One

17 David Eltis, ed., Coerced and ­Free Migration: Global Perspectives (Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press, 2002).
18 Alexander X. Byrd, Captives and Voyagers: Black Mi­grants across the Eighteenth-­
Century British Atlantic World (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University
Press, 2008); Philip D. Morgan, “British Encounters with Africans and African-­
Americans, circa 1600–1780,” in Strangers within the Realm: Cultural Margins of
the First British Empire, ed. Bernard Bailyn and Philip D. Morgan, 157–219 (Cha-
pel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991); Stephen J. Braidwood, Black
Poor and White Philanthropists: London’s Blacks and the Foundation of the Sierra
Leone Settlement, 1786–1791 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1994); and
Ellen Gibson Wilson, The Loyal Blacks (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1976).
19 Restall, “Black Consquistadors.”
20 Lester D. Langley, The Amer­ic­ as in the Age of Revolution, 1750–1850 (New Haven,
CT: Yale University Press, 1996); John Lynch, The Spanish American Revolu-
tions, 1808–1826, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 1986); and J. H. Elliott, Empires
of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in Amer­i­ca, 1492–1830 (New Haven, CT:
Yale University Press, 2006).
21 Kim D. Butler, Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-­Brazilians in Post-­abolition
São Paulo and Salvador (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998);
João José Reis, Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995); and Colin A. Palmer, Slaves
of the White God: Blacks in Mexico, 1570–1650 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univer-
sity Press, 1976).
22 John K. Thornton, “African Soldiers in the Haitian Revolution,” Journal of
­Ca­rib­bean History 25, nos. 1–2 (1991): 58–80.
23 David P. Geggus, ed., The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World
(Columbia: University of South Carolina, 2001); Laurent Dubois, A Colony of
Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Ca­rib­bean, 1787–1804
(Chapel Hill: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History
and Culture, Williamsburg, ­Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press,
2004); Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776–1848 (London:
Verso, 2011); and Robin Blackburn, “Haiti, Slavery, and the Age of the Demo­cratic
Revolution,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 63, no. 4 (2006): 643–74.
24 Sidney Kaplan and Emma Nogrady Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the
American Revolution (Amherst: University of Mas­sa­chu­setts Press, 1989).
25 Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of
­Colonial ­Virginia (New York: Norton, 1975).
26 See Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses: Une archéologie des sciences humaines
(Paris: Gallimard, 1966), especially chap. 5.
27 Éric Vogelin, Race et état (Paris: Vrin, 2007), 265.
28 On the development of the spirit of curiosity despite this closing of the mind,
see Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, Won­ders and the Order of Nature,
1150–1750 (New York: Zone Books, 1998).

NOTES TO Chapter One  189

29 Georges-­Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, “Variétés dans l’espèce humaine,” in
Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roy
(Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1798), 3:371–530.
30 Hegel, Reason in History, trans. Robert S. Hartman (Indianapolis: Bobbs-­
Merrill, 1953).
31 Friedrich W. Schelling, Introduction à la philosophie de la mythologie (Paris:
Aubier, 1945).
32 Michel Foucault, The Order of ­Things: An Archaeology of the H ­ uman Sciences, ed.
and trans. R. D. Laing (New York: Random House, 1973), 156–57.
33 On the dilemmas resulting from this mixing, see Doris Lorraine Garraway,
The Libertine Colony: Creolization in the Early French Ca­rib­be­an (Durham,
NC: Duke University Press, 2005), particularly chaps. 4 and 5. On the United
States, see Ira Berlin, Slaves without Masters: The ­Free Negro in the Antebellum
South (New York: ­Free Press, 2007), xiii–­x xiv; and Caryn Cossé Bell, Revolu-
tion, ­Romanticism, and the Afro-­Creole Protest Tradition in Louisiana, 1718–1868
(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997).
34 Edwin Black, War against the Weak: Eugenics and Amer­ic­ a’s Campaign to Create
a Master Race (New York: Thunder’s Mouth, 2003).
35 Étienne Balibar writes on “the return of race.” “Le retour de la race,” March 29,
2007, originally published in the online journal Mouvements des idées et des
luttes, http://­www​.m ­ ouvements​.­info. Available at http://­1libertaire​.­free​.f­ r​
/­RetourRaceBalibar​.­html (consulted June 26, 2016).
36 Peter Wade, Blackness and Race Mixture: The Dynamics of Racial Identity in Colom-
bia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); France Winddance Twine,
Racism in a Racial Democracy: The Maintenance of White Supremacy in Brazil (New
Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998); and Livio Sansone, Blackness with-
out Ethnicity: Constructing Race in Brazil (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
37 David Theo Goldberg, The Racial State (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002).
38 Troy Duster, “Lessons from History: Why Race and Ethnicity Have Played a
Major Role in Biomedical Research,” Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 34,
no. 3 (2006), 2–11.
39 Richard S. Cooper, Jay S. Kaufman, and Ryk Ward, “Race and Genomics,” New
­Eng­land Journal of Medicine 348, no. 12 (2003): 1166–70.
40 Alondra Nelson, “Bioscience: Ge­ne­tic Genealogy Testing and the Pursuit of
African Ancestry,” Social Studies of Science 38, no. 5 (2008): 759–83; and Ricardo
Ventura Santos and Marcos Chor Maio, “Race, Genomics, Identities and Poli-
tics in Con­temporary Brazil,” Critique of Anthropology 24, no. 4 (2004): 347–78.
41 Barbara A. Koenig, Sandra Soo-­Jin Lee, and Sarah S. Richardson, Revisiting
Race in a Genomic Age (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008);
Nikolas S. Rose, The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity
in the Twenty-­First ­Century (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2007);
Michal Nahman, “Materializing Israeliness: Difference and Mixture in Trans­
national Ova Donation,” Science as Culture 15, no. 3 (2006): 199–213.

190  NOTES TO Chapter One

42 David Theo Goldberg, The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism
(Malden, MA: Wiley-­Blackwell, 2009).
43 On ­these discussions, see Amade M’charek, The ­Human Genome Diversity
­Proj­ect: An Ethnography of Scientific Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, 2005); Jenny Reardon, Race to the Finish: Identity and Governance
in an Age of Genomics (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2005); and
Sarah Franklin, Embodied Pro­gress: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception
(London: Routledge, 1997).
44 On ­these mutations, see Tamara Vukov and Mimi Sheller, “Border Work:
Surveillant Assemblages, Virtual Fences, and Tactical ­Counter-­media,” Social
Semiotics 23, no. 2 (2013): 225–41.
45 Michael Crutcher and Matthew Zook, “Placemarks and Waterlines: Racial-
ized Cyberscapes in Post-­Katrina Google Earth,” Geoforum 40, no. 4 (2009):
46 See Louise Amoore, “Biometric Borders: Governing Mobilities in the War on
Terror,” Po­liti­cal Geography 25 (2006): 336–51; and Chad Harris, “The Omni-
scient Eye: Satellite Imagery, ‘Battlespace Awareness,’ and the Structures of the
Imperial Gaze,” Surveillance and Society 4, nos. 1–2 (2006): 101–22.
47 Grégoire Chamayou, Théorie du drone (Paris: La Fabrique, 2013).
48 Caren Kaplan and Raegan Kelly, “Dead Reckoning: Aerial Perception and the
Social Construction of Targets,” Vectors Journal 2, no. 2 (2006).
49 Peter M. Asaro, “The L ­ abor of Surveillance and Bureaucratized Killing: New
Subjectivities of Military Drone Operators,” Social Semiotics 23, no. 2 (2013):
50 Ayse Ceyhan, “Technologie et securité: Une gouvernance libérale dans un
context d’incertitudes,” Cultures et Conflits 64 (winter 2006).
51 Lara Palombo, “Mutations of the Australian Camp,” Continuum: Journal of
Media and Cultural Studies 23, no. 5 (2009): 613–27.
52 Paul Silverstein, “Immigrant Racialization and the New Savage Slot:
Race, ­Migration, and Immigration in the New Eu­rope,” Annual Review of
­Anthropology 34 (2005): 363–84.
53 Carolyn Sargent and Stephanie Larchanche, “The Muslim Body and the
Politics of Immigration in France: Pop­ul­ ar and Biomedical Repre­sen­ta­tions of
Malian Mi­grant W ­ omen,” Body and Society 13, no. 3 (2007): 79–102.
54 Ernst Junger, L’état universel suivi de La Mobilisation Totale (Paris: Gallimard,
1962), 107–10.
55 Wendy Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (New York: Zone Books,
56 Balibar, “Le retour de la race”; and Federico Rahola, “La forme-­camp: Pour une
généalogie des lieux de transit et d’internement du présent,” Cultures et Conflits
68 (winter 2007): 31–50.
57 Ira Reid, The Negro Immigrant: His Background, Characteristics, and Social
­Adjustment, 1899–1937 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1939).

NOTES TO Chapter One  191

58 See Winston James, Holding aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Ca­rib­bean Radicalism
in Early Twentieth-­Century Amer­i­ca (London: Verso, 1998).
59 See Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name, 13–55; as well as Kwame Anthony
Appiah, In My ­Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1992); see also Fanon, Peau noire, masques blancs.
60 Martin Robison Delany and Robert Campbell, Search for a Place: Black Sepa-
ratism and Africa, 1860 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969).
61 The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison, ed. John F. Callahan (New York: Modern
Library, 2003); Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert
Murray, ed. Albert Murray and John F. Callahan (New York: Modern Library,
2000); and Ellison, Invisible Man (New York: Random House, 2002).
62 Kevin Gaines, American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil
Rights Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Ibrahim
Sundiata, ­Brothers and Strangers: Black Zion, Black Slavery, 1914–1940 (Durham,
NC: Duke University Press, 2003); more recently, Maryse Condé, La vie sans
fards (Paris: J. C. Lattès, 2012); and Saidiya V. Hartman, Lose Your ­Mother:
A Journey along the Atlantic Slave Route (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
63 Richard Wright, Black Power: A Rec­ord of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (New
York: Harper, 1954); Margaret Walker, Richard Wright, Daemonic Genius: A
Portrait of the Man, a Critical Look at His Work (New York: Warner Books,
1988); Kwame Anthony Appiah, “A Long Way from Home: Wright in the Gold
Coast,” in Richard Wright: Modern Critical Views, ed. Harold Bloom (New York:
Chelsea House, 1987), 173–90; and Jack B. Moore, “Black Power Revisited: In
Search of Richard Wright,” Mississippi Quarterly 41 (1988): 161–86.
64 On the ambiguities of this pro­cess, see James Sidbury, Becoming African in
Amer­ic­ a: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic (Oxford: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 2007); and Clare Corbould, Becoming African Americans: Black
Public Life in Harlem, 1919–1939 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
65 Crummell, The ­Future of Africa, Being Addresses, Sermons, etc., etc., Delivered in
the Republic of Liberia (New York: Charles Scribner, 1862), especially chaps.
2 and 7.
66 Nietz­sche, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, trans. Ian Johnston (Arling-
ton, VA: Richer Resources, 2010), 8.
67 Mary Ann Shadd Cary, A Plea for Emigration; or, Notes of Canada West in Its
Moral, Social, and Po­liti­cal Aspect: With Suggestions Respecting Mexico, W. Indies
and Vancouver’s Island (Detroit: George W. Pattison, 1852); and Martin Robison
Delany, The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored ­People of
the United States: Po­liti­cally Considered (Philadelphia, 1852).
68 On the complexity of what was at stake, see Robert S. Levine, Martin Delany,
Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative Identity (Chapel Hill: Uni-
versity of North Carolina Press, 1997).

192  NOTES TO Chapter One

69 Henry Blanton Parks, Africa: The Prob­lem of the New ­Century; The Part the
African Methodist Episcopal Church Is to Have in Its Solution (New York: a.m.e.
Church, 1899).
70 Michele Mitchell, Righ­teous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of
Racial Destiny ­after Reconstruction (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 2004).
71 Engelbert Mveng, Les sources grecques de l’histoire négro-­africaine (Paris: Présence
Africaine, 1995); Cheikh Anta Diop, Nations nègres et culture (Paris: Présence
Africaine, 1954); Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or
Real­ity, trans. Mercer Cook (New York: L. Hill, 1974); and Theophile Obenga,
Africa in Antiquity: Pharaonic Egypt—­Black Africa (London: Karnak House,
72 For examples of this kind of discourse, see Evelyn Baring Cromer, “The Gov-
ernment of Subject Races,” Edinburg Review, January 1908, 1–27; and Evelyn
Baring Cromer, Modern Egypt (New York: Macmillan, 1915).
73 On the vari­ous formulations of ­these questions in African-­American historiog-
raphy, see Stephen G. Hall, A Faithful Account of the Race: African American His-
torical Writing in Nineteenth-­Century Amer­i­ca (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 2009); on the African side, see Diop, Nations nègres et culture.
74 Alain Locke, “The Negro Spirituals,” in The New Negro: An Interpretation (New
York: Arno, 1968); W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Library
of Amer­i­ca, 1990); Samuel A. Floyd, The Power of Black ­Music: Interpreting
Its History from Africa to the United States (New York: Oxford University Press,
1995); Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993); and Paul Gilroy, Darker
Than Blue: On the Moral Economies of Black Atlantic Culture (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 2010). See also Paul Allen Anderson, Deep River:
­Music and Memory in Harlem Re­nais­sance Thought (Durham, NC: Duke
University Press, 2001).
75 David Walker, David Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble,
to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Par­tic­u­lar, and Very Expressly, to
­Those of the United States of Amer­i­ca (Boston, 1830); James W. Pennington, Text
Book of the Origin and History, &c. &c. of the Colored ­People (Hartford, CT: L.
Skinner, 1841); Robert Benjamin Lewis, Light and Truth; Collected from the
Bible and Ancient and Modern History (Boston, 1844); and Maria W. Stewart,
“Productions of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart, 1835,” in Spiritual Narratives, ed. Sue E.
Houtchins, 51–56 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).
76 Alexander Crummell, Civilization and Black Pro­gress: Selected Writings of
Alexander Crummell on the South, ed. J. R. Oldfield (Charlottesville: University
Press of ­Virginia, 1995).
77 Certain aspects of this terror are analyzed in detail in W. E. B. Du Bois, Black
Reconstruction in Amer­ic­ a: An Essay ­toward a History of the Part Which Black
Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in Amer­i­ca, 1860–1880 (New

NOTES TO Chapter One  193

York: Oxford University Press, 2007); see also Steven Hahn, A Nation ­under
Our Feet: Black Po­liti­cal Strug­gles in the Rural South, from Slavery to the G
­ reat
Migration (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003); and Crystal
Nicole Feimster, Southern Horrors: ­Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).
78 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks.
79 Fabien Eboussi Boulaga, La crise du Muntu: Authenticité africaine et philosophie
(Paris: Présence Africaine, 1977), 184.
80 Brent Hayes Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora: Lit­er­a­ture, Translation, and
the Rise of Black Internationalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
2003); and Roderick D. Bush, The End of White World Supremacy: Black Inter-
nationalism and the Prob­lem of the Color Line (Philadelphia: ­Temple University
Press, 2009).
81 Gilroy, Black Atlantic.
82 Bill Schwarz, ed., West Indian Intellectuals in Britain (Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 2003).
83 Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-­Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves,
Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston: Beacon,
2000); Claude McKay, Banjo: A Story without a Plot (New York: Harpers,
1929); and Robin D. G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
(Boston: Beacon, 2002).
84 Gilroy, Black Atlantic.
85 Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
86 See, in reference to the state, Michel Foucault, Naissance de la biopolitique: Cours
au Collège de France, 1978–1979, ed. Michel Senellart (Paris: Gallimard, 2004), 79.
87 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks.
88 Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975–76,
trans. David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003), 254–56.
89 Vogelin, Race et état.
90 On this, see John Ernest, Liberation Historiography: African American Writers
and the Challenge of History, 1794–1861 (Chapel Hill: University of North Caro-
lina Press, 2004), especially chaps. 1–4.
91 This is explained well by Frederick Douglass in My Bondage and My Freedom, in
Frederick Douglass, Autobiographies (New York: Library of Amer­i­ca, 1994), 149;
see also Hortense J. Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Gram-
mar Book,” in Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Lit­er­a­ture and
Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003); a synthesis is provided
by Nancy Bentley, “The Fourth Dimension: Kinlessness and African American
Narrative,” Critical Inquiry 35, no. 2 (2009): 270–92.
92 Césaire, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Paris: Présence Africaine, 2008).
93 See in par­tic­u­lar Marcus Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey; or,
Africa for the Africans (Dover, MA: Majority Press, 1986).

194  NOTES TO Chapter One

94 This thematic infuses many of the major texts of the nineteenth ­century. See in
par­tic­u­lar Edward W. Blyden, Liberia’s Offering (New York, 1862).
95 Nancy, La communauté désœuvrée (Paris: C. Bourgois, 1986), 39.
96 Georges Bataille and Michel Leiris, Correspondence, ed. Louis Yvert, trans. Liz
Heron (London: Seagull Books, 2008), 73.

Two ​The Well of Fantasies

1 Frédéric Godefroy, Dictionnaire de l’ancienne langue française: Et de tous ses

dialectes du IXe au XVe siècle (Paris: H. Champion, 1902), vol. 10; Dictionnaire de
Trévoux, 1728; and Simone Delesalle and Lucette Valensi, “Le mot ‘nègre’ dans les
dictionnaires de l’Ancien Régime: Histoire et lexicographie,” Langue Française 15
(September 1972): 79–104.
2 See the remarks of Pliny the Elder, Histoire Naturelle, vol. 6-2 (Paris: Les Belles
Lettres, 1980); and Al-­Mas’udi, Les prairies d’or, vol. 1 (Paris: Imprimerie
­Impériale, 1861).
3 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Reason in History, trans. Robert S. Hartman
(Indianapolis: Bobbs-­Merrill, 1953).
4 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove,
2008), 93.
5 Ian Baucom, Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy
of History (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005).
6 Georges Hardy, L’art nègre: L’art animiste des noirs d’Afrique (Paris: H. Laurens,
7 Pablo Picasso quoted in William Rubin, Le primitivisme dans l’art du XXe siècle:
Les artistes modernes devant le tribal (Paris: Flammarion, 1992).
8 Breton, Entretiens, 1913–1952 (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), 237.
9 Jean-­Claude Blachère, Le modèle nègre: Aspects littéraires du mythe primitiviste au XXe
siècle chez Apollinaire, Cendrars, Tzara (Dakar: Nouvelles Éditions Africaines, 1981).
10 See, for instance, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Mafarka the Futurist: An African
Novel (London: Middlesex University Press, 1998); and Clément Pansaers,
Le pan pan au cul du nu nègre (Brussels: Alde, Collection Aio, 1920).
11 See Carole Reynaud Paligot, Parcours politique des surréalistes, 1919–1969 (Paris:
cnrs, 1995).
12 Lucien Lévy-­Bruhl, Les fonctions mentales dans les sociétés inférieures (Paris:
F. Alcan, 1910). See also Lévy-­Bruhl, La mentalité primitive (Paris: Presses
Universitaires de France, 1922); and Lévy-­Bruhl, L’âme primitive (Paris: Presses
Universitaires de France, 1928).
13 Arthur Gobineau, “Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines,” in Œuvres complètes,
(Paris: Gallimard, 1983), 1:623, 1146.
14 Gobineau, “Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines,” 472–74.
15 See Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-­Garde in France,
1885 to World War I (New York: Vintage Books, 1968).

NOTES TO Chapter Two  195

16 Césaire, The Collected Poetry, trans. Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 97, 121, 141.
17 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 91.
18 On the contradictions of this pro­cess and the role of w ­ omen within it, see
Angela Davis, “Reflections on the Black ­Woman’s Role in the Community of
Slaves,” in The Angela Y. Davis Reader, ed. Joy James (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996),
19 Raymond Roussel, New Impressions of Africa/Nouvelles impressions d’Afrique,
trans. Mark Ford (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2011).
20 Hegel summarizes this better than anyone in Reason in History.
21 Michel Leiris, L’Afrique fantôme (Paris: Gallimard, 1990), 225.
22 Leiris, Miroirs de l’Afrique (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), 230.
23 Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (New York: Columbia Univer-
sity Press, 1990), 13.
24 Foucault, Death and the Labyrinth: The World of Raymond Roussel, trans.
Charles Ruas (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1986), 163–64.
25 Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 29.
26 Foucault, Death and the Labyrinth, 165.
27 See the first chapter of Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks.
28 Vernant, “Figuration de l’invisible et catégorie psychologique du double: Le
Kolossos,” in Œuvres: Religions, rationalités, politique (Paris: Seuil, 2007), 534.
29 See, notably, chapter 6 of Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York:
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976).
30 Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, 185.
31 Carl Schmitt, The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum
Europaeum, trans. G. L. Ulmen (New York: Telos, 2003), 86.
32 Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, 176–77, 183.
33 Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, 189.
34 Schmitt, Nomos of the Earth, 94.
35 See Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Marshall Missner (New York: Pearson
Longman, 2008); and Hobbes, Behemoth; or, The Long Parliament, ed. Paul
Seaward (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
36 Schmitt, Nomos of the Earth, 74. Schmitt quotes Trier, “Zaun und Mannring,”
Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur 66 (1942): 232.
37 Schmitt, Nomos of the Earth, 199.
38 See the works of Carole Reynaud Paligot: La République raciale: Paradigme
racial et idéologie républicaine (1860–1930) (Paris: Presses Universitaires de
France, 2006) and Races, racisme et antiracisme dans les années 1930 (Paris:
Presses Universitaires de France, 2007).
39 Judith Surkis, Sexing the Citizen: Morality and Masculinity in France, 1870–1920
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006).
40 See Christopher M. Andrew and Alexander S. Kanya-­Forstner, “The French
Colonial Party: Its Composition, Aims and Influence, 1885–1914,” Historical

196  NOTES TO Chapter Two

Journal 14, no. 1 (1971): 99–128; and Raoul Girardet, L’idée coloniale en France de
1871 à 1962 (Paris: La ­Table Ronde, 1972).
41 Charles Richet, La sélection humaine (Paris: F. Alcan, 1919).
42 Sean Quinlan, “Colonial Bodies, Hygiene and Abolitionist Politics in
Eighteenth-­Century France,” History Workshop Journal 42 (1996): 106–25.
43 William H. Schneider, Quality and Quantity: The Quest for Biological Regeneration
in Twentieth-­Century France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
44 Jean Pluyette, La doctrine des races et la sélection de l’immigration en France
(Paris: Bossuet, 1930); Arsène Dumont, Dépopulation et civilisation: Étude
démographique (Paris: Lecrosnier et Babé, 1890); and Paul Leroy-­Beaulieu,
La question de la population (Paris: F. Alcan, 1913).
45 Denis Provencher and Luke Eilderts, “The Nation According to Lavisse:
Teaching Masculinity and Male Citizenship in Third Republic France,” French
Cultural Studies 18, no. 1 (2007): 31–57.
46 Hélène d’ Almeida-­Topor, “L’histoire de l’Afrique occidentale enseignée aux
enfants de France,” in L’Afrique occidentale au temps des Français: Colonisateurs et
colonisés, 1860–1960, ed. Catherine Coquery-­Vidrovitch (Paris: La Découverte,
1992), 49–56.
47 Declaration to the Chamber of Deputies, July 9, 1925.
48 Conférence de Jean Jaurès, maître de conferences à la Faculté des Lettres de Toulouse,
brochure of l’Alliance Française, association nationale pour la propagation de la
langue française dans les colonies et à l’étranger (Albi, France: Imprimérie
Pezous, 1884), 9.
49 See, for example, Émile Fournier-­Fabre, Le choc suprême; ou, La mêlée des races
(Paris: G. Ficker, 1921); and Maurice Muret, Le crépuscule des nations blanches
(Paris: Payot, 1925).
50 Leroy-­Beaulieu, De la colonisation chez les peuples modernes (Paris: F. Alcan,
1908), 605–6.
51 Mérignhac, Précis de législation et d’économie coloniales (Paris: Sirey, 1912), 205.
52 Sue Peabody and Tyler Edward Stovall, eds., The Color of Liberty: Histories of
Race in France (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).
53 Christopher L. Miller, The French Atlantic Triangle: Lit­er­a­ture and Culture of the
Slave Trade (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).
54 See Ulrike Schneebauer, “Le personage de l’esclave dans la littérature franco-
phone contemporaine à travers trois œuvres de Maryse Condé, Mahi Binebine
et Aimé Césaire” (master’s thesis, University of Vienna, 2009).
55 See Petrine Archer Straw, Negrophilia: Avant-­Garde Paris and Black Culture in
the 1920s (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000).
56 George E. Brooks, “Artists’ Depiction of Senegalese Signares: Insights Con-
cerning French Racist and Sexist Attitudes in the Nineteenth ­Century,” Journal
of the Swiss Society of African Studies 18, no. 1 (1979): 75–89.
57 Chalaye, Du noir au nègre: L’image du noir au théâtre de Marguerite de Navarre à
Jean Genet (1550–1960) (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1998).

NOTES TO Chapter Two  197

58 Elvire Jean-­Jacques Maurouard, Les beautés noires de Baudelaire (Paris: Kar-
thala, 2005).
59 Chateaubriand, Les Natchez (Paris: G. Chinard, n.d.), 398–99.
60 Phyllis Rose, Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time (New York: Double-
day, 1989), 8.
61 Tocqueville, De la colonie en Algérie (Brussels: Editions Complexe, 1988), 38. He
is speaking ­here of the first moments of French presence in Algeria.
62 Labat, Nouvelle relation de l’Afrique occidentale, vol. 1 (Paris: G. Cavalier, 1728),
quoted in Andrew Curran, “Imaginer l’Afrique au siècle des lumières,” Cromohs:
Cyber Review of Modern Historiography 10 (2005).
63 Victor Hugo, “Discours sur l’Afrique,” in Actes et paroles, edited by Jean-­Claude
Fizaine (Paris: Laffont, 1985), 4:1010.
64 Hugo, “Discours sur l’Afrique,” 4: 1010.
65 Swift, Poems, ed. Harold Herbert Williams (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1958), 2:645–46.
66 François Le Vaillant: Voyage de M. Le Vaillant dans l’Intérieur de l’Afrique par
Le Cap de Bonne Espérance, dans les années 1783, 84 & 85 (Paris: Leroy, 1790).
67 Cournot, Martinique (Paris: Gallimard, 1949), 13.
68 Dapper, Description de l’Afrique (Amsterdam: W. Waesberge, 1686), 5.
69 See the se­lections in Stanley Engerman, Seymour Drescher, and Robert
­Paquette, eds., Slavery (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
70 See Marcel Dorigny, La Société des Amis des Noirs 1788–1799: Contribution à
l’histoire de l’abolition de l’esclavage (Paris: unesco, 1998).
71 Yves Bénot, La révolution française et la fin des colonies (Paris: La Découverte,
72 On this subject, see Roxann Wheeler, The Complexion of Race: Categories of
Difference in Eighteenth-­Century British Culture (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 256.
73 Voltaire, Œuvres complètes (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1878), 11:6.
74 Hugo, “Discours sur l’Afrique,” 4: 1010.
75 Quoted in Gilles Manceron, 1885, le tournant colonial de la République (Paris:
La Découverte, 2007), 60–61.
76 Henri Brunschwig, Mythes et réalités de l’impérialisme colonial français, 1871–1914
(Paris: A. Colin, 1960), 173–74; and Charles Robert Ageron, L’anticolonialisme
en France, de 1871 à 1914 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1973).
77 Harvey Goldberg, The Life of Jean Jaurès (Madison: University of Wisconsin
Press, 1962), 202–3.
78 Pierre Mille and Félicien Challaye, Les deux Congo devant la Belgique et devant
la France (Paris: Cahiers de la Quinzaine, 1906).
79 Paul Louis, Le colonialisme (Paris: G. Bellais, 1905); and Paul Vigné d’Octon,
Les crimes coloniaux de la Troisième République, vol. 1, La sueur du burnous
(Paris: Editions de la Guerre Sociale, 1911).

198  NOTES TO Chapter Two

Three ​Difference and Self-­Determination

1 ­Whether through the vocabulary of alienation or that of deracination, Fran-

cophone criticism has prob­ably conceptualized this pro­cess of the “exit from
oneself ” best. See in par­tic­u­lar Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, trans.
Joan Pinkham (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000); Frantz Fanon, Black
Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (New York: Grove, 1967);
Hamidou Kane, Ambiguous Adventure (London: Heinemann, 1972); Fabien
Eboussi Boulaga, La crise du Muntu: Authenticité africaine et philosophie (Paris:
Présence Africaine, 1977); and Fabien Eboussi Boulaga, Chris­tian­ity without Fe-
tishes: An African Critique and Recapture of Chris­tian­ity (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis
Books, 1984).
2 This applies in par­tic­ul­ ar to Anglophone work in Marxist po­liti­cal economy.
See, for example, Walter Rodney, How Eu­rope Underdeveloped Africa, rev. ed.
(Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1982); or the works of authors
such as Samir Amin, Le développement inégal: Essai sur les formations sociales du
capitalisme périphérique (Paris: Minuit, 1973).
3 On falsification and the necessity to “re-­establish historical truth,” see, for exam-
ple, the work of nationalist historians: Joseph Ki-­Zerbo, Histoire de l’Afrique noire,
d’hier à demain (Paris: Hatier, 1972); and Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origin of
Civilization: Myth or Real­ity, trans. Mercer Cook (New York: L. Hill, 1974).
4 On the problematic of slavery as social death, see Orlando Patterson, Slavery
and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1982).
5 Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–79, trans.
Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 64, 66.
6 Foucault, Birth of Biopolitics, 67.
7 Tocqueville, Democracy in Amer­i­ca: Historical-­Critical Edition of “De la démocra-
tie en Amérique,” ed. Eduardo Nolla, trans. James T. Schleifer (Indianapolis:
Liberty Fund, 2012), 516–17.
8 Tocqueville, Democracy in Amer­i­ca, 517–18.
9 Tocqueville, Democracy in Amer­i­ca, 549, 551.
10 Tocqueville, Democracy in Amer­i­ca, 552.
11 Tocqueville, Democracy in Amer­i­ca, 555, 566.
12 Tocqueville, Democracy in Amer­i­ca, 572, 578.
13 On the centrality of the body as the ideal unity of the subject and the locus
of recognition of its unity, its identity, and its value, see Umberto Galimberti,
Les raisons du corps (Paris: Grasset, 1998).
14 On this point and ­those that precede it, see, among o­ thers, Pierre Pluchon,
Nègres et Juifs au XVIIIe siècle: Le racisme au siècle des lumières (Paris: Tallandier,
1984); Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, De l’esprit des lois, vol. 1
(Paris: Garnier/Flammarion, 1979); Voltaire, “Essais sur les mœurs et l’esprit

NOTES TO Chapter Three  199

des nations et sur les principaux faits de l’histoire depuis Charlemagne jusqu’à
Louis XIV,” in Œuvres complètes (Paris: Imprimerie de la Société Littéraire et
Typographique, 1784), vol. 16; and Immanuel Kant, Observations sur le sentiment
du beau et du sublime, trans. Roger Kempf (Paris: Vrin, 1988).
15 Thomas R. Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1994).
16 The most developed institutional form of this economy of alterity was the
apartheid regime, in which hierarchies ­were of a biological order. It was an
expanded version of indirect rule. See Lucy P. Mair, Native Policies in Africa
(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1936); and Frederick D. Lugard, The Dual
Mandate in British Tropical Africa (London: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1980).
17 See the texts gathered in Henry S. Wilson, Origins of West African Nationalism
(London: Macmillan, 1969).
18 See, for example, Nicolas de Condorcet, “Réflexions sur l’esclavage des Nègres
(1778),” in Œuvres (Paris: Firmin-­Didot, 1847), vol. 7.
19 Edward W. Blyden, Chris­tian­ity, Islam and the Negro Race (Baltimore: Black
Classic Press, 1994); and Edward W. Blyden, Liberia’s Offering (New York: John
A. Gray, 1862).
20 See, for example, the texts gathered in Aquino de Bragança and Immanuel
Wallerstein, eds., The African Liberation Reader, 3 vols. (London: Zed, 1982).
21 See Immanuel Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (Chicago:
Southern Illinois Press, 1978).
22 On this point, see Pierre Guiral and Emile Temime, eds., L’idée de la race dans la
pensée politique française contemporaine (Paris: Editions du cnrs, 1977).
23 You can see the centrality of this theme in Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks;
Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism; and, in a general sense, the poetry of Léopold
Sédar Senghor.
24 W. E. B. Du Bois, The World and Africa: An Inquiry into the Part Which Africa
Has Played in World History (New York: International Publishers, 1946).
25 To this effect, see the final pages of Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks.
26 This is the thesis of Léopold Sédar Senghor, “Negritude: A Humanism in the
Twentieth ­Century,” in Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: A Reader,
ed. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf,
1994), 27–35.
27 In this regard, see the critique of the texts of Alexander Crummell and W. E.
B. Du Bois in Kwame Anthony Appiah, In My ­Father’s House: Africa in the
Philosophy of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), chaps. 1 and 2.
See also Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Racism and Moral Pollution,” Philosophical
Forum 18, nos. 2–3 (1986–1987): 185–202.
28 Léopold Sédar Senghor, Liberté I: Négritude et humanisme (Paris: Seuil, 1964);
and Senghor, Liberté III: Négritude et civilisation de l’universel (Paris: Seuil, 1977).
29 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Reason in History, trans. Robert S. Hartman
(Indianapolis: Bobbs-­Merrill, 1953).

200  NOTES TO Chapter Three

30 In the Francophone world, see in par­tic­ul­ ar the works of Diop and, in the
Anglophone world, the ­theses on Afrocentricity offered by Molefi Kete Asante,
Afrocentricity (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1988).
31 See, among ­others, Théophile Obenga, L’Afrique dans l’Antiquité: Égypte phara-
onique, Afrique noire (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1973)
32 Paradoxically, we find the same impulse and the same desire to conflate race
and geography in the racist writings of White colonists in South Africa. For
details on this, see John M. Coetzee, White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in
South Africa (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988). See especially the
chapters on Sarah Gertrude Millin, Pauline Smith, and Christiaan Maurits van
den Heever.
33 They must “return to the land of [their] ­fathers and be at peace,” as writes
Blyden in Chris­tian­ity, 124.
34 Africa as a subject of racial my­thol­ogy can be found as much in the works of
Du Bois as ­those of Diop or ­else Wole Soyinka; for the latter, see Soyinka,
Myth, Lit­er­a­ture, and the African World (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1976).
35 Joseph C. Miller, Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave
Trade, 1730–1830 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988).
36 Alexander Crummell, Africa and Amer­i­ca: Addresses and Discourses (New York:
Negro Universities Press, 1969 [1885]), 14–36.
37 What follows is abundantly inspired by Boulaga’s reflections on “tradition.”
See Boulaga, La crise du Muntu, 152–72.
38 Boulaga, La crise du Muntu, 152.
39 Boulaga, La crise du Muntu, 156, 158.
40 V. Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of
Knowledge (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988); and Mudimbe,
The Idea of Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994).
41 Appiah, In My ­Father’s House. In a ­later study Appiah denounced the narrow-
ness of nationalist positions, emphasized the value of double ancestrality,
and proclaimed himself a cosmopolitan liberal. See Appiah, “Cosmopolitan
Patriots,” Critical Inquiry 23, no. 3 (1997): 617–39.
42 Oscar Bimwenyi-­Kweshi, Discours théologique négro-­africain: Problème des fond-
ements (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1981).
43 John L. Comaroff and Jean Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, vol. 2, The
Dialectics of Modernity on a South African Frontier (Chicago: University of Chi-
cago Press, 1991).

Four ​The ­Little Secret

1 Jean-­Pierre Vernant, Figures, idoles, masques (Paris: Julliard, 1990), 29.

2 Frantz Fanon, “Pourquoi nous employons la vio­lence,” in Œuvres , eds. Magali
Bessone and Achille Mbembe (Paris: La Découverte, 2011), 414.

NOTES TO Chapter Four  201

3 Michel Foucault, “Il faut défendre la société”: Cours au Collège de France
(1975–1976) (Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 1997), 51. It needs to be understood
that, for Foucault, the term “race” does not have a stable biological mean-
ing. It sometimes designates historico-­political splits, at o­ thers differences in
origin, language, or religion, but above all a kind of link that is established only
through the vio­lence of war.
4 Fanon, “Pourquoi,” 414.
5 Fanon, “Pourquoi,” 414.
6 Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove, 1968), 57.
7 Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, trans. Joan Pinkham (New York: Monthly
Review Press, 2000), 33, 41. Fanon speaks, in turn, of “this Eu­rope where
they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find
them, at the corner of ­every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the
globe.” Or, again, “that same Eu­rope where they w ­ ere never done talking of
Man, and where they never stopped proclaiming that they ­were only anxious
for the welfare of Man: ­today we know with what sufferings humanity has
paid for ­every one of their triumphs of the mind.” Fanon, Wretched of the
Earth, 311–12.
8 Georges Bataille, La part maudite, précédé de La notion de dépense (Paris: Min-
uit, 1967); Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt
Brace Jovanovich, 1976), especially the chapter “Race and Bureaucracy”; Ernst
Junger, L’état universel suivi de La mobilisation totale (Paris: Gallimard, 1962);
and Emmanuel Levinas, Quelques réflexions sur la philosophie de l’hitlérisme
(Paris: Payot and Rivages, 1997).
9 Guy Rosolato, Le sacrifice: Repères psychanalytiques (Paris: Presses Universitaires
de France, 1987), 30.
10 Fanon expresses the impossibility of community in the following manner:
“Colonialism is not a thinking machine, nor a body with reasoning faculties.
It is vio­lence in its natu­ral state and it w
­ ill only yield when confronted with an
even greater vio­lence.” Or: “For the native, life can only spring up again out of
the rotting corpse of the settler.” Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 39, 61.
11 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (New York:
Grove, 1967), 220; Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, chap. 5; and Fanon, A D ­ ying
Colonialism (New York: Grove, 1965), chap. 4.
12 Jean-­François Bayart, Le gouvernement du monde: Une critique politique de
la globalisation (Paris: Fayard, 2005), 208; see also Françoise Vergès, Abolir
l’esclavage: Une utopie coloniale; Les ambiguïtés d’une politique humanitaire (Paris:
Albin Michel, 2001).
13 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks.
14 Saidiya V. Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-­Making in
Nineteenth-­Century Amer­i­ca (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); and
Todd L. Savitt, Medicine and Slavery: The Diseases and Health Care of Blacks in
Antebellum ­Virginia (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002).

202  NOTES TO Chapter Four

15 Megan Vaughn, Curing Their Ills: Colonial Power and African Illness (Cam-
bridge: Polity, 1990); and Nancy Rose Hunt, A Colonial Lexicon of Birth
Ritual, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo (Durham, NC: Duke Univer-
sity Press, 1999).
16 Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony (Berkeley: University of California Press,
2001), chap. 4.
17 Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism; see also Olivier Lecour Grandmaison,
­Coloniser, exterminer: Sur la guerre et l’état colonial (Paris: Fayard, 2005).
18 Fanon, ­Toward the African Revolution: Po­liti­cal Essays, trans. Haakon Chevalier
(New York: Monthly Review Press, 1967), 66.
19 Fanon, ­Dying Colonialism, 99.
20 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 58; see also Fanon, ­Dying Colonialism, particularly
the chapter “Medicine and Colonialism.”
21 Fanon, ­Toward the African Revolution, 67.
22 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 36.
23 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 250.
24 See, for example, the narrative of the assassination of the national leader of
Cameroon, Ruben Um Nyobè, and of the desecration of his cadaver, in Achille
Mbembe, La naissance du maquis dans le Sud-­Cameroun (1920–1960): Histoire
des usages de la raison en colonie (Paris: Karthala, 1986), 13–17; see also Ludo de
Witte, The Assassination of Lumumba (London: Verso, 2001).
25 Alexis de Tocqueville, De la colonie en Algérie (Brussels: Editions Complexe,
1988), 39.
26 Regarding the colony as an experience of subjectification, see Bayart, Le gouver-
nement du monde. See also John L. Comaroff and Jean Comaroff, Of Revelation
and Revolution, vol. 2, The Dialectics of Modernity on a South African Frontier
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), in par­tic­u­lar chaps. 3–8.
27 Nietz­sche, The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Douglas Smith (Oxford: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 2002), 25.
28 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 45.
29 Francis Jeanson, “Préface à l’edition de 1952 de Peau noir, masques blancs,” in
Œuvres, by Frantz Fanon (Paris: La Découverte, 2011), 49.
30 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 89–90.
31 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 91–92.
32 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 42.
33 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks; see the chapters on interracial sexuality.
34 Maurice Merleau-­Ponty, Le vis­i­ble et l’invisible (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), 17.
35 Friedrich Nietz­sche, La volonté de puissance (Paris: Gallimard, 1935), 2:219.
36 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 137–38.
37 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 142–43, 147.
38 Tocqueville, De la colonie en Algérie, 38–40.
39 Ferdinand Oyono, Une vie de boy (Paris: Julliard, 1960); and Mongo Beti, Perpé-
tue et l’habitude du malheur (Paris: Buchet/Chastel, 1974).

NOTES TO Chapter Four  203

40 Tocqueville, De la colonie en Algérie, 46, 74–75.
41 William Pietz, Le fétiche: Généalogie d’un problème (Paris: Kargo et l’Éclat,
2005), 105.
42 Heusch, Sacrifice in Africa: A Structuralist Approach (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1985), 101, and generally the chapter “King on the Sacrificial
Scene”; see also Heusch, Le roi de Kongo et les montres sacrés (Paris: Gallimard,
43 Joseph C. Miller, Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave
Trade, 1730–1830 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988).
44 Freud, The Uncanny, trans. David McLintock (London: Penguin Books, 2003).
45 Gérard Guillerault, Le miroir et la psyché (Paris: Gallimard, 2003), 142.
46 Merleau-­Ponty, Phénomologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945), 469.
47 Freud, Uncanny, 142.
48 Catherine Coquery-­Vidrovitch includes sacred forests, the tombs of Mus-
lim saints, mosques, and certain masks and dances among other vectors of
memory. Coquery-­Vidrovitch, “Lieux de mémoire et occidentalisation,” in
­Histoire d’Afrique: Les enjeux de mémoire, ed. Jean-­Pierre Chrétien and Jean-­
Louis Triaud (Paris: Karthala, 1999), 378–79.
49 Sami Tchak, Place des fêtes (Paris: Seuil, 2001).
50 Ahmadou Kourouma, En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages (Paris: Seuil, 1998).
51 Amos Tutuola, The Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (New
York: Grove, 1994).
52 See especially Sony Labou Tansi, La vie et demie (Paris: Seuil, 1979); Tansi, Les
yeux du volcan (Paris: Seuil, 1988); Tansi, L’état honteux (Paris: Seuil, 1981); and
Tansi, Le commencement des douleurs (Paris: Seuil, 1995).
53 Mia Couto, Les baleines de Quissico (Paris: Albin Michel, 1996).
54 Sony Labou Tansi, L’anté-­peuple (Paris: Seuil, 1983).
55 Tutuola, Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life.
56 Ahmadou Kourouma, Allah n’est pas obligé (Paris: Seuil, 2000).
57 Sony Labou Tansi, Les sept solitudes de Lorsa Lopez (Paris: Seuil, 1985).
58 Hamidou Kane, Ambiguous Adventure (London: Heinemann, 1972).
59 See, for example, Yvonne Vera, Papillon brûle (Paris: Fayard, 2002); Tansi,
Le commencement des douleurs; and Tansi, L’autre monde: Écrits inédits (Paris:
Revue Noire, 1997).
60 Achille Mbembe, “Politiques de la vie et vio­lence spéculaire dans la fiction
d’Amos Tutuola,” Cahiers d’Études Africaines 172 (2003): 791–826.
61 Alain Mabanckou, Verre cassé (Paris: Seuil, 2005).
62 Kossi Efoui, La Polka (Paris: Seuil, 1998), 9.
63 Efoui, La Polka, 11–12.
64 Efoui, La Polka, 54, 111.
65 Efoui, La Polka, 58–65.
66 Laurence Bertrand Dorléac, L’ordre sauvage: Vio­lence, dépense et sacré dans l’art
des années 1950–1960 (Paris: Gallimard, 2004).

204  NOTES TO Chapter Four

67 Didier Nativel and Françoise Raison-­Jourde, “Rapt des morts et exhibition
monarchique: Les contradictions de la République colonisatrice à Madagas-
car,” in Chrétien and Triaud, Histoire d’Afrique, 173–95; and Odile Goerg, “Le
site du Palais du gouverneur à Conakry: Pouvoirs, symbôles et mutations de
sens,” in Chrétien and Triaud, Histoire d’Afrique, 389–404.
68 Achille Mbembe, “La ‘chose’ et ses doubles dans la caricature camerounaise,”
Cahiers d’Études Africaines 36, no. 141–42 (1996): 143–70.
69 Catherine Coquery-­Vidrovitch, “Fêtes et commemorations en Afrique
­Occidentale au XXème siècle,” in Odile Goerg, ed., Fêtes urbaines en Afrique:
Espaces, identités et pouvoirs (Paris: Karthala, 1999), 201–12.
70 Mbembe, La naissance du maquis.
71 René Pélissier, Les guerres grises: Résistance et révoltes en Angola, 1845–1941
(Orgeval, France: Pélissier, 1978); Pélissier, La colonie du Minotaure: National-
ismes et révoltes en Angola, 1926–1961 (Orgeval, France: Pélissier, 1979); Pélissier,
Les campagnes coloniales du Portugal, 1844–1941 (Paris: Pygmalion, 2004); and
David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in ­Kenya and the End of
Empire (New York: Norton, 2005).
72 For a theorization of this terror, see Tocqueville, De la colonie en Algérie.
73 Nasser Hussain, The Jurisprudence of Emergency: Colonialism and the Rule of Law
(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003); and Sidi Mohammed Barkat,
Le corps d’exception: Les artifices du pouvoir colonial et la destruction de la vie
(Paris: Editions d’Amsterdam, 2005).

Five ​Requiem for the Slave

1 Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon, logique de la sensation (Paris: Seuil, 2002),

chap. 4.
2 Tansi, Life and a Half (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), 24.
3 Gérard Guillerault, Le miroir et la psyché (Paris: Gallimard, 2003), 142.
4 Tansi, Life and a Half, 8–9.
5 Tansi, Life and a Half, 23–24.
6 Tansi, Life and a Half, 6.
7 Tansi, Life and a Half, 6–7.
8 Tansi, Life and a Half, 8.
9 Tutuola, The Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (New York:
Grove, 1994).
10 Melchior-­Bonnet, Histoire du miroir (Paris: Imago, 1994), 113–14.
11 Tutuola, Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life, 248–49.
12 Tutuola, Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life, 109.
13 Tutuola, Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life, 29.
14 Tutuola, Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life, 24–25.
15 Tutuola, Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life, 263–64.
16 Tutuola, Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life, 36.

NOTES TO Chapter Five  205

17 Tutuola, Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life, 90–92.
18 Tutuola, Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life, 271–72.
19 Tutuola, Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life, 42.
20 Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-­Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizo­phre­nia, trans.
Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1983), 7, 15.
21 Tutuola, Palm-­Wine Drinkard and My Life, 74–75.

Six ​The Clinic of the Subject

1 Marcus Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey; or, Africa for the
Africans (Dover, MA: Majority Press, 1986).
2 Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions, 10–14.
3 Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions, 37, 53.
4 Aimé Césaire, Nègre je suis, nègre je resterai, interviews by Françoise Vergès
(Paris: Albin Michel, 2005), 69.
5 Césaire, “Discours sur la négritude,” speech, University of Florida, February 26,
1987, http://­blog​.­ac​-v­ ersailles​.­fr​/­1erelnerval​/­public​/­L A​_­2​_­Cesaire​_­Discours​
_­sur​_l­ a​_­Negritude​.­pdf.
6 Césaire, “Discours sur la négritude.”
7 Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, trans. Joan Pinkham (New York: Monthly
Review Press, 2000), 32, 36, 39, 41. What the West cannot forgive Hitler for, he
argues, “is not the crime itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of
man as such, it is the fact that he applied to Eu­rope colonialist procedures which
­until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the ‘coolies’ of
India, and the ‘niggers’ of Africa” (36).
8 Césaire and Vergès, Nègre je suis.
9 Césaire, Discours sur la négritude.
10 Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, 73.
11 Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove, 1968), chap. 5
12 Fanon, “Les damnés de la terre,” in Œuvres, eds. Magali Bessone and Achille
Mbembe (Paris: La Découverte, 2011), 627, 493.
13 Fanon, A ­Dying Colonialism (New York: Grove, 1965), 23.
14 Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove, 1968), 251.
15 Ann Stoler, “Colonial Aphasia: Race and Disabled Histories in France,” Public
Culture 23, no. 1 (2011): 121–56.
16 Achille Mbembe, “Provincializing France?” Public Culture 23, no. 1 (2011): 85–119.
17 Miguel Mellino, “Frantz Fanon, un classique pour le présent,” Il Manifesto,
May 19, 2011, http://­frantz​-­fanon​.b­ logspot​.­com​/­2011​/­05​/­frantz​-­fanon​-­un​
18 “We have risen to our feet and we are now moving forward. Who can ­settle us
back into servitude?” Fanon, ­Dying Colonialism, 32.

206  NOTES TO Chapter Five

19 “I am a man, and I have to rework the world’s past from the very beginning.”
Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 201.
20 Bernard Doray, “De notre histoire, de notre temps: À propos de Frantz Fanon,
portrait, d’Alice Cherki,” Sud/Nord, no. 14 (2001): 145–66.
21 Jacques Postel and Claudine Razanajao, “La vie et l’œuvre psychiatrique de
Frantz Fanon,” L’Information Psychiatrique 51, no. 10 (1975): 147–74.
22 On the paradoxes and possibilities of a politics of love in Fanon, see Matthieu
Renault, “ ‘Corps à corps’: Frantz Fanon’s Erotics of National Liberation,” Jour-
nal of French and Francophone Philosophy 19, no. 1 (2011): 49–55.
23 Olivier Douville, “Y a-­t-il une actualité clinique de Fanon,” L’Évolution Psychi-
atrique 71, no. 4 (2006): 709.
24 Fanon, ­Dying Colonialism, 28–29; and Fanon, “Pourquoi nous employons la
vio­lence,” in Œuvres, 413ff.
25 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 85.
26 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 92.
27 “It is not the land that is occupied. . . . ​Colonialism . . . ​has installed itself in the
very center of the individual . . . ​and has carried out a sustained l­ abor of sweeps,
of the expulsion of oneself, of rationally pursued mutilation. . . . ​It is the coun-
try as a ­whole, its history, its daily heartbeat, that are challenged. . . . ​In ­these
conditions, the individual’s breathing is observed, occupied. It is breathing as
combat.” Fanon, “L’an V de la révolution, Annexe: Les femmes dans la révolu-
tion,” in Œuvres , 300.
28 Fanon, “Pourquoi nous employons la vio­lence,” 414. Or sometimes the “circle
of hate,” in Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 89.
29 Fanon, “Pourquoi nous employons la vio­lence,” 414.
30 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 249.
31 Fanon, “Pourquoi nous employons la vio­lence,” 414.
32 Fanon, ­Dying Colonialism, 128.
33 Fanon, “Pourquoi nous employons la vio­lence,” 414.
34 Mathieu Renault, “Vie et mort dans la pensée de Frantz Fanon,” Cahiers Sens
Public 10 (2009), https://­www​.c­ airn​.­info​/­revue​-c­ ahiers​-­sens​-­public​-­2009​-­2-​ ­p​
35 Fanon, ­Dying Colonialism, 118–20.
36 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 58; and Fanon, “Pourquoi nous employons la vio­
lence,” 415.
37 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 93.
38 Bernard Doray, La dignité: Les debouts de l’utopie (Paris: La Dispute, 2006).
39 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 93.
40 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 89.
41 Fanon, ­Dying Colonialism, 23.
42 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 85.
43 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 86.

NOTES TO Chapter Six  207

44 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 36–37, 92.
45 Fanon, “Pourquoi nous employons la vio­lence,” 417.
46 Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 308–9, 31. For the “­great night” the phrase in the
original is “la grande nuit.”
47 Fanon, “Pourquoi nous employons la vio­lence,” 415.
48 Fanon, “Pourquoi nous employons la vio­lence,” 415.
49 Mandela, Conversations with Myself (London: Macmillan, 2010).
50 Mandela, Conversations with Myself, 122–24.
51 See Sarah Nuttall and Achille Mbembe, “Mandela’s Mortality,” in The
Cambridge Companion to Mandela, ed. Rita Bernard, 267–89 (Cambridge:
­Cambridge University Press, 2014).
52 Jacques Lacan, “La psychanalyse est-­elle constituante pour une éthique qui
serait celle que notre temps nécessite?” Psychoanalyse 4 (1986).
53 See James Baldwin, The Cross of Redemption (New York: Pantheon, 2010).
54 Blyden, Liberia’s Offering (New York: John A. Gray, 1862), 174–97.
55 King, Letter from the Birmingham Jail (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco,
56 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 112. Peau noire, masques blancs (Paris: La Dé-
couverte, 2012), 151.

208  NOTES TO Chapter Six


abolition, 3, 30, 71, 74–75, 82, 84, 86, 93, anti-­Semitism, 21, 62
172 apartheid, 3, 21, 35, 45, 56, 78, 161,
Africa, 38, 48–54, 70–74, 90–91, 94; 200n16
Black liberation and, 154–56, 160; Apollinaire, Guillaume, 69
Blacks and, 11–13, 25–27, 91–92; Arabic, 98
colonial conquest and, 20, 45, 56–58, Arendt, Hannah, 56, 58
115; as mystery, 40–41, 50; precolo- art, 27, 41–43, 63, 126, 173–74, 180
nial, 47, 91, 99. See also Chris­tian­ity; Asia, 45, 71, 154
colonialism; Islam; race; slave trade assimilation, 62, 87, 97
African lit­er­a­ture, 120–25 Atlantic slave trade. See slave trade
African nationalisms, 88, 119, 171 avant-­garde, 40–41
Africanism, 27 Azores, 13
Africanity, 88, 91
Africanization, 54 back-­to-­Africa movement, 91–92
Africanness, 25, 91 Bacon’s Rebellion, 44
Afrikaners, 57 Baker, Josephine, 69–70
Afro-­Caribbeans, 25 Baldwin, James, 25, 39
Afrocentrism, 178 Barbados, 25, 81
Afro-­Iberians, 14 Bataille, Georges, 36
Afro-­Latins, 15 Baudelaire, Charles, 68
Algeria, 22, 108–9, 113, 160–61, 163–68 Bay of Biafra, 14
Algiers, 109 Behn, Aphra, 75
American Colonization Society, 27 Benjamin, Walter, 98
American Revolution, 15–16, 81 Bentham, Jeremy, 55
Americanness, 25 Berber, 98
anarchism, 30, 41, 43, 77 bioeconomy, 36
anticolonialism, 15–16, 41–42, 76–77, biology, 2, 5, 7, 20–23, 35–36, 55–56, 66,
88, 172 73, 89, 159
antieconomy, 31 biopolitics, 22, 24, 33, 80
Black, 5–6, 25, 38–40, 46–47, 151–59 body. See Black Man; Blackness;
Black art, 173–74 colonialism; memory; slaves;
Black condition, 4, 6, 15, 19, 159 vio­lence
Black consciousness, 14–15, 29–30, 154, Boulaga, Fabien Eboussi, 93–95
159 Braque, Georges, 69
Black criticism, 87–88, 157 Brazil, 47
Black discourse, 78, 88–90 Breton, André, 41
Black emancipation, 14–15, 29, 47, 83, 88, British Empire, 14, 16, 86
112, 154, 161 Brown, Sterling, 159
Black identity, 89–90, 94–95, 97, 99–101, Bruno, G. (Augustine Fouillée), 64
123, 151–52, 157 Buffon, Georges-­Louis, 17
Black internationalism, 25, 30 Burke, Edmund, 55
Black Man, 72–73, 91, 157–60; as animal, Burma, 22
153, 159; as body, 39–40, 86, 110–11;
death and, 52–53, 152; difference and, Cabral, Amilcar, 171
7, 30, 46–47, 85–94, 99; as kolossos, Càdiz, 14
53; master and, 153–56; as merchan- Canaries, 13
dise, 6–7, 47, 74, 79–80, 180; race Cape Verde, 13
and, 17, 82–89; as remainder, 11; self-­ capitalism, 87; animism and, 4–6;
affirmation of the, 28–29, 88–94, 172; Black slaves and, 13, 47, 57, 79; mer-
as t­ hing, 2, 11, 31, 38, 40, 79, 110–11; cantilist reason and, 79–80; race and,
vigor and, 42–43 92, 129, 136–37, 179; workers and, 3–4,
Black novel, 121–25 143–44
Black reason, 10, 27–31 Ca­rib­bean, 14, 18–20, 25–26, 30, 47, 81,
Black W ­ oman, 68–69, 124–25 156–57
Blackness, 20; as affirmation, 43; Central Africa, 13–14
Africa and, 11–12, 38, 129; as at- Césaire, Aimé, 1, 33, 43, 46, 106, 153,
tribution, 28–30, 46–47; as body of 156–60
extraction, 18, 20, 40; as imaginary Chalaye, Sylvie, 68
relationship, 12; as phantasmagoria, Charleston, 16
39, 69; primitivism and, 42; race and, Chris­tian­ity, 54, 58, 60, 65, 87, 92,
1–2, 6–7, 44, 179. See also memory; 95–101, 174–76
sexuality civil rights, 3, 81, 87
Blacks, 25, 38–40, 46, 86–89, 155–60; Civil War, 25, 81–82
Africa and, 5–6, 12–13, 38, 91–92; as cobelonging, 1, 89–90
beings apart, 85–90; the colony and, Code Noir, 74
18–20, 36, 45, 57, 103–4, 120; France Cold War: “dirty wars” of, 22
and, 63–70, 74–77, 83–85; historical colonial potentate, 104–9, 114–21,
archive and, 28–29, 88; liberation of, 127–28
3, 81–82, 176; U.S., 16, 25–27, 82–84. colonialism, 107–8, 156–67; civilizing
See also race mission and, 12, 76, 87; colonized
Blum, Léon, 65 body and, 107–11, 116–17, 164, 168;
Blyden, Edward W., 175 fetishes and, 115–16; medicine and,

210  INDEX
107–9, 132, 162–64, 168; merchan- de Tocqueville, Alexis, 70, 82–85, 109,
dise and, 114–20; propaganda and, 113–14, 159
40; as religion, 101. See also race; death: power and, 131–37, 140–41,
vio­lence; war 145–47, 168
colonies: in Africa, 14–16, 56; in African debt, 5, 104, 118–20, 157, 174, 181
art and lit­er­at­ ure, 104; Atlantic, Declaration of the Rights of Man, 76
14–16, 44, 81; of extraction, 13; decolonization, 3, 22, 87, 160–70, 172
integration of, 61–62; plantation 13, degeneration, 21, 42–43, 65–66, 93
18–19, 79–80, 153–54; settler, 44–45 Deleuze, Gilles, 2, 51–52, 148–49
colonization, 57; Black discourse and, denationalization, 14
78; Eu­ro­pean, 56–58, 106, 109, 113, 118; deterritorialization, 99, 155
French, 62–66; of the United States, Diderot, Denis, 55
27; universality and, 97 digital technologies, 3, 5; vio­lence
colonized, 33, 46, 97, 106–9, 114–19, and, 23, 170; surveillance and,
126–27, 161–69 23–24
community, 26, 29, 33–34, 48, 90, 158, Dorothée l’Africaine, 68
173–75, 183 Du Bois, W. E. B., 111
concubinage, 18, 20. See also sexuality Du Tertre, Jean-­Baptiste, 74
Congo, 76–77, 157 Duras, Claire, 75
Cortés, Hernán, 14 Duval, Jeanne, 68
counterinsurgency, 4, 22, 164, 170
Cournot, Michel, 73 Efoui, Kossi, 123–25
creolization, 14–15 Egypt, 91, 93
Crummel, Alexander, 26, 92–93 Emancipation Proclamation, 112
Cuba, 14 enclosure, 35, 59–60, 160, 183
Cullen, Countee, 159 Enlightenment, 15, 17, 67, 97
cultural relativism, 90 eugenics, 20–21, 62
culture, racism and, 7, 35 Eu­ro­pean expansion, 13–17, 20–21,
55–58, 66, 79–81, 178
dance, 48, 50, 65, 68, 70, 73, 106, 121, 131, Eu­ro­pean thought: savages in, 42,
141–42, 150, 174 60–61, 65, 67, 69, 75, 92; discourse on
Dapper, Olfert, 73 man in, 1, 6, 76
Darwinism, 20, 66, 90
de Chateaubriand, François-­René, 69 Fanon, Frantz, 10, 33, 39, 43–46, 52,
de Condorcet, Marquis (Marie Jean 105–13, 159–70, 178
Antoine Nicolas de Caritat), 55, 74 fantasy: Africa and, 71–72; Blackness
de Gouges, Olympe, 75 and, 11–12, 107, 112; colonialism and,
de Heusch, Luc, 116 114–15; Enlightenment and, 17; of
de Lamartine, Alphonse, 75 Whiteness, 43–45
de Sade, Marquis (Donatien Alphonse Ferry, Jules, 64, 76
François), 41 Florida, 14, 16
de Staël, Germaine (Anne-­Louise-­ Foucault, Michel, 17–18, 32–33, 52,
Germaine Necker), 75 80–81, 105, 202n3

INDEX  211
France: Blacks in, 67, 176; colonial- universal, 96–97, 156, 162, 167–68,
ism and, 63, 65–67, 76–77, 156–57, 172–73, 176
160–67; consciousness of empire
in, 62–63, 67–70, 74; decoloniza- Iberian Peninsula, 13–14, 38
tion, 161, 163; exoticism in, 67–69; image: Africa and, 49–52, 99, 139;
formation of racism in, 62; memory capital and, 4, 110, 119; memory and,
in, 64, 126, 161; pedagogy in, 63–64; 122–23; psychoanalytic, 130, 134,
politics of kindness in, 74–75; 137–39
popu­lar culture in, 63–70; racial immigration, 24, 64, 120
logic in, 66–68, 70–72; repre­sen­ imperialism, 4–5, 17, 30, 54–55, 57–58,
ta­tions of Blackness in, 68–71; 61, 128
secularization of, 57; slavery in, 67, in-­common, 8, 177, 183
74–75. See also Algeria; colonialism; indentured laborers, 19–20, 44–45
race Indentured Servants’ Plot (1661), 44
Franco-­Prussian War, 63 Indian Ocean, 47
freemen, 13, 15, 18, 20 indigène, 28
Freud, Sigmund, 120 indigeneity, 91
Friends of the Blacks, 75 indigenization, 57
indirect rule, 86
Garvey, Marcus, 34, 153–56 industrialization, 4
genocide, 45, 108, 160, 163 infrahuman, 135
Germany, 58 infralife, 32
Gilroy, Paul, 30 intermixing, 63
Glissant, Édouard, 95, 180–81 Islam, 47, 58, 95–98, 100
globalization, 3, 6, 80, 158 Islamophobia, 7
Gobineau, Arthur, 43
Guadeloupe, 75 Jamaica, 14, 16
Guattari, Félix, 148–49 Jaurès, Jean, 65, 76
jazz, 41
Haiti, 3, 15–16, 68, 157 Johannesburg, 171
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 11–12, Journal Illustré, 63
17, 90
Homer, 53 Kabyles, 114
Hughes, Langston, 159 Kant, Immanuel, 55
Hugo, Victor, 71, 76 King Jr., Martin Luther, 171, 175
­human rights, 60 knowledge: as critique, 168; empire and,
­human zoos, 63 17, 70–72, 113; proj­ect of, 1–2; race
humanitarianism, 5, 12, 30, 65 and, 10–14, 22, 27, 42, 86
humanity: Africa and, 50, 54; of Blacks,
85–87, 89–90, 128; colonialism and, L’Alliance Française Illustrée, 64
108, 110; politics of, 178–83; race L’Illustration, 63
and, 56, 66, 68; the slave and, 46–48, La Polka (Efoui), 123–25
60–61, 73, 75, 82–83, 107, 129, 135; Labat, Jean-­Baptiste, 70, 74

212  INDEX
Lacan, Jacques, 120 migration, 22–24, 36, 57, 64, 98–99, 120,
language: Africa and, 49–53; Blackness 170, 177
and, 13, 111; memory and, 122–24; military complex, 3, 24
vio­lence and, 163 modernity: critique of, 54–55, 87–88,
Lavallée, Joseph, 75 97, 157
Le Journal de la Jeunesse, 64 ­music, 48, 50, 104, 121, 131, 141–42, 149,
Le Petit Écolier, 64 174
Le Petit Français Illustré, 64 My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Tutuola),
Le Saint-­Nicolas, 64 130, 137–43
Le Vaillant, François, 73
Leiris, Michel, 50 Nancy, Jean-­Luc, 34
Leroy-­Beaulieu, Paul, 66 Napoleon, 75
liberalism, 23 55, 79–83; antiliberalism, necropolis, 137, 163
97; neoliberalism, 3–4 necropolitics, 163
Life and a Half (Tansi), 130, 134–37 Nègre, 38–39, 43, 47, 72–73, 159
Lisbon, 14 negritude, 33, 43, 89, 159
Louis, Paul, 77 Negro, 25, 39, 69–70, 76, 82–84, 110–13,
Louis XIV, 74 155
Lumumba, Patrice, 157, 171 negrophobia, 112
lynching, 112 neoliberalism, 3–4
neurosciences, 3
Madeira, 13 New York, 16
Mandela, Nelson, 170–72 Nicaragua, 22
Marechera, Dambudzo, 121 Nietz­sche, Friedrich, 26, 41, 109, 112, 149
marronage, 44 nonhuman, 87, 180–81
Matisse, Henri, 69 Nora, Pierre, 64
McKay, Claude, 159 Nova Scotia, 16
Melchior-­Bonnet, Sabine, 138
memory, 103; artificial and digital, 3; occupation: colonial, 4, 22, 57, 60–61,
Black difference and, 92–93; body 65, 128, 165, 170
and, 123–25, 164; of the colony, Ouologuem, Yambo, 121
103–4, 119–26; death and, 125–28, 142;
forgetting and, 104–5; loss and, 34, Palm-­Wine Drinkard, The (Tutuola),
104, 120, 164; monuments and, 104, 130, 137–43
126–28; race and, 55; reparation and, Pan-­Africanism, 89, 91–92
104, 160; sites of, 64; slave and, 13, 33, Parks, Henry Blanton, 27
83, 149–50. See also image Péguy, Charles, 77
Mercier, Louis-­Sébastien, 74 Petit Journal, 63
Mérignhac, Alexandre, 66 Petit Lavisse, 64
Mérimée, Prosper, 75 Petit Parisien, 63
Merleau-­Ponty, Maurice, 120–21 Picasso, Pablo, 40, 69
mestizaje, 15 plantation, 13–20, 35–36, 40, 44, 47, 61,
Mexico, 14 79–81, 107, 153–54

INDEX  213
Portugal, 13–14 reparation, 54, 178–83
possession: Africa and, 50, 71; power restitution, 54, 169, 179–83
and, 136, 153; practices of, 106, 131; Robben Island, 172
self-­, 143, 146; sexuality and, 111 Rouanet, Gustave, 76
postcolonial thought, 161 Rousseau, Jean-­Jacques, 67
postcolony, 128, 159 Royal African Com­pany, 44
postimperial, 3, 161
power: nocturnal, 131–41. See also Saint-­Domingue, 15, 75
colonialism; race Saint-­Lambert, Jean-­François, 75
prehuman, 17 Sand, George (Amantine-­Lucile-­Aurore
primitive art, 27, 41 Dudevant), 75
Proust, Marcel, 64 Savannah, 16
Puerto Rico, 14 Schmitt, Carl, 59–61
security, 5, 22–24, 35–36, 80–81,
race, 10–11, 31–35, 112; call to, 34; as 161, 170
category, 2, 24, 57, 62, 187n4; class segregation, 20–21, 26, 29–30, 35, 45–47,
and, 36; colonialism and, 65, 105–8, 54–55, 73, 81, 84, 86
169–70; culture of fear and, 81; de- Senghor, Léopold Sédar, 90, 158–59
mocracy and, 82–84; emergence of, separation: racial, 30–34, 38, 63, 78,
16–17, 55, 82; fantasy and, 17; friend- 82–86, 94, 107, 131, 158
ship and, 74–75; gaze and, 110–11; settlers, 15–16, 19, 27, 44–45, 61, 91, 108,
genomics and, 21–22; geography 166
and, 89, 91–92, 201n32; hierarchies Seville, 14
of, 89, 154, 177; language and, 13; law sexuality: Black Man and, 73; Black
and, 19, 54, 57, 61; liberation from, ­Woman and, 68–69; colonized and,
174–77; myth of racial superiority, 11, 108, 112–13, 116, 174; settler socie­ties
42; nationalisms and, 58; paternalism and, 44, 63. See also concubinage
and, 75; racism and, 32, 170; racism Sierra Leone, 15
without races, 7; reproduction and, Silicon Valley, 3
21; ­today, 55; typologies, 21, 63; war slave revolts, 3, 37, 154; in the Amer­i­cas,
and, 24, 55–58, 84, 153–56. See also 16, 19, 44, 81; Haitian, 15
colonialism; vio­lence slave trade, 2–3, 13–16, 21, 45, 47, 67,
raciology, 64 70–75, 79, 87, 91, 116–18, 129–30,
rag-­human, 134–35 136–37, 181
Raynal, Guillaume-­Thomas (l’Abbé), 74 slaves: as animals, 82–85, 129, 153; body
rebalkanization, 5, 170 of, 143–50, 154; community and, 48;
redemption: proj­ect of, 154–55 freemen, 13, 15, 20; kinlessness and,
religion: Africa and, 40, 95–101, 115–16; 33; White, 20, 44. See also colonial-
Blacks and, 173–74; capitalism and, ism; humanity; race
14; colony and, 104; conquest and, Société des Amis des Noirs, 74
56–57; Haiti and, 16; race and, 7, 11, South Africa, 21, 45, 56–58, 173, 176
24, 35, 92, 107; slaves and, 48, 82. South Amer­i­ca, 15, 45
See also Chris­tian­ity; Islam South Carolina, 15–16, 25

214  INDEX
sovereignty: Blacks and, 33–34, 85, 92, Vergès, Françoise, 159
99, 101; capitalism and, 80; humani- Vernant, Jean-­Pierre, 53
tarianism and, 5; the state and, 57 Verne, Jules, 64
Spain, 13–14 victimization, 88, 92
state of exception, 5, 23 Vietnam, 22
state of nature, 58–59, 73 vio­lence: Africa and, 49–50, 85, 118;
strug­gle, 168–69, 174–77 colonial, 12, 45, 56, 70, 105–8, 113,
subaltern: 4, 7, 44. See also colonized 160–68; of the colonized, 162–68;
surplus: race and, 8, 34–35, 46–47, 130–31 power and, 140; religion and, 95–96,
surrealism, 41 101; security and, 23–24; on the
Swift, Jonathan, 72 slave, 18, 20, 37, 153–54, 179. See also
colonialism; race
Tansi, Sony Labou, 121, 130, 134–36 ­Virginia, 15, 25, 44, 81
terrorism, 22, 27 Voltaire (François-­Marie Arouet), 67,
thingness, 4, 143, 180 75–76
time, 118, 120–24, 148, 173
Tobacco Riots of 1682, 44 war: Africa and, 49, 121; Algeria and,
Tour du Monde, 63 108, 160–68; asymmetrical, 5, 22–23,
triangle trade. See slave trade 159; Civil War, 25, 81–82; Cold War,
Trier, Jost, 60 22; colonialism and, 60–61, 70, 105–8,
Tutuola, Amos, 121–23, 130, 137–50 165–67; images and, 5; Islam and, 96,
100; law and, 59–61, 66; race and, 24,
Um Nyobé, Ruben, 171 55–58, 84, 153–56; on terror, 22; War
United States: Blacks in, 25–27, 112, of In­de­pen­dence, 15–16, 81; World
156–57, 173, 176; and slavery, 15–16, War II, 41, 97, 160
19, 47, 112 West Africa, 14, 98
universalism, 7–8, 55, 86, 97, 158, 160 Whiteness, 43–45
Wright, Richard, 159
Valéry, Paul, 12
Vera, Yvonne, 121 zoning, 5

INDEX  215
This page intentionally left blank
This page intentionally left blank
This page intentionally left blank
This page intentionally left blank
This page intentionally left blank
This page intentionally left blank
This page intentionally left blank